Nov 10 Readings: Fishman; Carrigg, Honey & Thorpe

The key theme in these two readings seems to be the necessity of making sure that collaboration between those planning scaling and those implementing scaling.

I'm really glad we read these two pieces, especially Carrigg, Honey & Thorpe. These provide concrete examples of how to get a reform to work. They also answer my previous question of "can schools be retrofit?" The answer now seems to be "yes, but with a long-term plan that emphasizes ground-up scaling with local buy-in."

The sad part is that the practical politics need to be explained so explicitly. As Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local." For anyone in educational administration, the political frame should be very apparent. (Is this Senge or Bolman and Deal--?) However, in my experience, many in education, even administrators, are clueless about the care and feeding of the footsoldiers of the revolution: the teachers and others who do the actual implementation.

Technology makes the changes possible, but it is essentially a tool. As Carrigg, Honey & Thorpe make clear, it is the people who make it so. That is, once professional development that teaches teachers how to do what is being asked of them has been implemented as a long-term learning project for the teachers. Fishman also makes this point in his discussions of how teachers who aren't trained in the programs don't have effective classrooms. Or that letting teachers play with the tech on their own, and then incorporating the tech into the pro dev works (p. 18). (Even the River City write-ups and commentary make this clear.)

Teachers teach what they know. It's always been that simple.

And support needs to be systematic, consistent, and at all levels of the school/district. And accountable (which is really just "assessment" which the teachers and other implementator must undergo). Repeated. Thus it overcomes "idiosyncrasy" as per Carrigg, Honey & Thorpe.

This means, for the tech folks in the crowd, that any "innovation" cannot be simply designed as a "plug and play". I guess this would be the temptation for someone accustomed to writing discrete, stand-alone programs. But these stand-alones (curriculum, professional development presentations, assessments, district reforms) are really examples of the curriculum being "disabled" (to paraphrase David Rose) because the failure of the "intervention" [really, really hate that term] is blamed on the people being done to. As Carrigg, Honey & Thorpe say, "professional development is a process, not an event" (17). Think about Frederick Douglass' complaints about well-meaning abolitionists. How many of us as teachers have been to one-day mandatory work-shops with no follow up??

It also means that there is recursion as major themes and techniques are reiterated at each level. (Ok, for the MBE folks "recursion" is a big buzz word (although I am still no great fan of Chomsky and his fans).) This is really like the work of Heidi Hayes Jacobs' curriculum mapping and Grant Wiggins' understanding by design.

As for the scaling to state level, there are some aspects which as mentioned, but insufficiently emphasized: having key personnel in place, with relational and political ties being one of the biggies. Because people follow people, then ideas. A solider fights for his buddies and to protect the kids, not for an abstract concept. [Hmmm, a little cynical tonight, are we?] People do follow ideas, but for systematic school reform, it will take hold because people make it happen within a structure that helps it to work. The Appendix A in Carrigg, Honey & Thorpe shows some significant differences in the three programs, and these rest on the difference between letting the local level work, and keeping the old system in place by not changing the structure.

But if we are to change the structure, we have to make it happen with the people at the local level. Which is the great underrealized engine of change -- which has to be built on relational and political skills. If only these skills could be consistently scaled up!

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