Are Teachers Unwilling To Change?

When professional development and learning is imposed upon teachers, don’t expect much in the way of meaningful teacher growth..

This week CTQ bloggers kicked off a two week exploration of the theme: How Do Teachers [Really] Learn? We invite you all to join us with your thoughts and questions here on the blogs or on social media at #Love2Learn.

In several schools I’ve worked in, I’ve befriended veteran teachers on the verge of retirement. They counted down the days until lesson plans and stacks of ungraded papers would become a relic of their professional pasts. They scowled or ignored new mandates, the next best initiative, and bold calls for changing classroom practice. They had become jaded by years of promise coupled with little follow-through.

If I had endured thirty-or-so-years of mandates and initiatives–with the requisite professional “development” attached to these demands–I’d probably feel the same way. I understand their obstinance.

According to Judith Zimmerman, teachers may be unwilling to change due to the following reasons, among others:

  1. Failure to recognize the need for change

  2. Fear of the unknown

  3. Precedent of previous failed initiatives

  4. Threats to their expertise

All of the above seem to correlate with external forces too often making decisions for teachers–never a recipe for positive shifts in teaching and learning and school culture. Unwillingness to change or grow professionally in a top-down, coercive environment is unsurprising. Most teachers will, however, respond with willingness to explore new ideas and skills given a more healthy context.

If you want teachers to change, school districts must create conditions to elevate the profession. If you want teachers to change, consider adult learning theory when designing PD. If you want teachers to change, allow educators to address school needs and give them ongoing support.

I think about dozens of my students over the years. The kids who will not readily comply or change their attitudes when it’s a heavily teacher-centered lesson or unit. The kids who don’t see the point when they have no choice in the matter. Just as teaching can feel futile when we impose every decision, activity, and question upon kids, adults often respond the same way when ownership is absent.

So, yes, there are some teachers who are unwilling to change. But I don’t necessarily blame them. I blame a system of professional development and learning that has too often ignored approaches that lead to empowered teachers who are more apt to envision themselves and their classroom practices differently.