Respect The Realities of Change (Part II)

The depth portion of my KAM is following the same structure as the breadth portion. As such I begin by tackling those elements that facilitate organizational change, the first of which is once again to respect the realities of change. The DRAFT of this section is below.

Meanwhile, while writing I occasionally take a mental break and surf the web. I felt I needed some motivation, so I thought I’d look up what percentage of Americans actually complete their PhD. According to this 2005 article, less than 1% of Americans earn a doctorate degree (and this number is declining). Also, approximately 60% of all doctoral students (in the humanities) do not complete their degree. I’m trying my best to be a part of that 1% (and to keep it from declining further), and to not be a part of that 60%. :)

Schools of Education, by the way, award the most doctoral degrees per year in this country. I suppose that’s not a surprise.

In any case, on to my clumsy DRAFT. I hope this at least communicates how much reading and note taking I’ve done for this project. ;)

Facilitating Organizational Change

Each of the authors introduced in the previous section is a prominent theorist in the field of professional learning communities. The implementation of professional learning communities in keeping with their philosophies can greatly improve the efficacy of school change efforts. Therefore, in order to further develop the preliminary working theory of school change presented in the breadth portion of this KAM, a thorough review was conducted of these professional learning community theorists as well. This review has revealed ten elements of school change that can be used to guide the process of integrating video games and simulations as educational technologies in a constructivist learning environment. Some of these elements are very similar to those presented in the breadth portion, however most are additional elements that can be used to guide to implementation new educational technologies, such as video games and simulations, in schools. The first five of these elements relate to facilitating organizational change: respect the realities of change; establish mission, vision, values, and goals; focus on what’s important; develop leadership; and, develop teaching.

1. Respect The Realities of Change

To be successful, change agents must respect that organizational change is a complicated, difficult, and time-consuming process – especially in an educational institution. This was illustrated by the work of Senge, Evans, and Fullan in the breadth portion of the KAM. Below, this is further supported by the work of leading professional learning community theorists.

The DuFours and their co-authors expressed the complex nature of change in many ways. DuFour and Eaker (1998) reviewed the failures of previous school change efforts including A Nation at Risk, the excellence movement, Goals 2000, and the restructuring movement (p. 1-9). They also reviewed the failures of the industrial age educational system in general (p. 19-23). Their conclusion was that this system, and the efforts to reform it, have failed “for a number of reasons: the complexity of the task, misplaced focus and ineffective strategies, lack of clarity on the intended results, failure to persist, and lack of understanding of the change process” (p. 17). DuFour and Eaker knew that school change was a messy and unpredictable process; they considered “problems and conflict… [to be] the inevitable byproducts of serious reform” (p. 49). They believed that “if schools are to be significantly more effective, they must break from the industrial model upon which they were created and embrace a new model that enables them to function as learning organizations” (p. 15), which they prefer to characterize as professional learning communities. DuFour, Eaker, and DuFour (2005) believed that changing an organization is not a matter of top-down directives, but rather that “changing an organization begins with changing the conversation within the organization” (p. 183). And, like Senge, they believed that the skills of systems thinking would play an important role in making sense of the complexity inherent in the change process (p. 94, p. 218).

Other authors writing about professional learning communities noted similar complexities in the process of facilitating organizational change. Wald and Castleberry (2000) discussed what they call “the roller coaster of change” (p. 42), a process which at its best is still an emotional journey of getting aboard, generating a vision or idea, encountering constraints, experiencing despair, entering into dialogue, engendering hope, planning, taking action, and finally getting results. The path is neither an easy one nor a straight one. Huffman and Hipp (2003) consider how many elements are necessary in order to provide the right supportive conditions for school change; these include caring relationships, trust and respect, recognition and celebration, risk-taking, a unified effort to embed change in the culture of the school, resources (such as time, money, materials, and people), facilities, and communication systems (p. 144). Lists of necessary conditions cannot only begin to capture the nuances of organizational change; as Roberts & Pruit (2003) point out, “meaningful and continuous conversation among teachers about their beliefs, their teaching, their learning, and what they have learned about teaching is necessary for teachers to develop into a community of learners and leaders” (Kruse, Louis, Bryk, 1995, as cited in Roberts & Pruit, 2003, p. xi) capable of successful school change. Hord’s (2004) model for professional learning communities includes such diverse and complex elements as “supportive and shared leadership, shared values and vision, collective learning and application of that learning, supportive conditions, and shared personal practice” (p. 1). Kagaan (2004) points out that even if such elements are formalized, there is none-the-less a “distinction between theories-in-action and espoused theories – the differences between what school professionals really do and how they really interact, as opposed to what the mission statement mounted on the wall of the school foyer says about what they do and how they interact” (p. 4). Ultimately, team work in a professional learning community is daunting; members of the community must show respect for each other, keep an open mind, talk about difficult issues, be flexible, and be clear (Stone & Cuper, 2006, p. 9-11).

A change agent attempting to integrate constructivist pedagogy or new educational technologies, such as video games and simulations, into a school will encounter all of these levels of complexity as well. The challenges of introducing new teaching techniques and new technologies to a school are largely the same challenges that professional learning communities are designed to overcome. The efforts of change agents will be much more fertile in an environment characterized as a professional learning community than in traditional school structures. To some degree, a change agent hoping to introduce a new technology such as video games into a school would do well to help the school build its capacity as a professional learning community in order to increase the chances of success with their initiative.