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Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

By LeaderTalk Contributor — July 25, 2010 4 min read

“It’s these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same
With all of our running and all of our cunning
If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane”

Jimmy’s (yes, I feel like we are on a first name basis though the courts disagree) words Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes hung on the wall of our classroom and represented my take on teaching and learning.

Students often wanted to know what it meant though I would answer “it is better you see than I tell”. By the end of our time together, it was clear why I lived by those words in my approach to teaching.

My principal had a clear understanding of it, too. She knew my beliefs about learning and how teens learn. She understood why my instructional and assessment practices were tied directly to those beliefs. She challenged me to continue triangulating learning theory, motivation theory, and assessment theory to change as a teacher, to inform my pedagogy.

She explored and challenged my beliefs about how people learn (as well as our entire faculty) and how this informed my pedagogy. This, in turn, personalized my growth and impacted both the learning environment and my practices.

She understood professional development could not focus on instruction disconnected from learning. She knew that too often professional development attempted to enhance or change instructional practice without changing perspectives on how people learn.

Little did I know she was unique in that regard.

Our Lens

This is why I’ve been studying and engaging in research on how professional development is done compared to her approach (understand how people learn and what is motivation in efforts to understand how this informs professional development for enhanced pedagogy). What has been abundantly clear is our almost obsessive focus in professional development that jumps directly to instruction without considering foundations of learning and motivation, without considering the diverse perspectives, beliefs, and values of the teachers.

How do people learn? Does this generation of students learn and approach learning differently than past generations? What does it mean and look like to be engaged for learning? How are we considering motivation in the design of our learning environment? How are we taking into account learning theory and student motivation when designing and reviewing assessments for learning? How are your perspectives on these questions informing pedagogy?

I’m often asked about how do we get teachers to change their instructional practices, buy-in to systemic ideas, adopt technology, and other notions of “change”.

We know the whole concept of change is enough to send many into a state of paralysis:

“We did this twenty years ago and I hated it then. Now it’s back and you expect me to do what?”
“LEAVE ME ALONE! We’re doing fine!”
“This is just a fad... by the way, my ditto machine is broken. Can you fix it?”
“Learning communities? Why don’t you call it what it is -- a meaningless meeting”
“I’ll just close my door!”
“You want me to do what?”
“So help me... if you say Vision, just turn around and run... run as fast as you can.”

This utter fear of and resistance to change use to frustrate me to no end until I began to take note of our lens, a lens that sees everyone sharing the same beliefs about how people learn so the instructional strategy or learning space should be clear.

The reality is that these instructional strategies do not always match a teacher’s belief about how people learn, which leads to one of two things in my observations:


  1. The teacher resists and does not progress no matter the degree of professional development.
  2. The teacher feels pressure to adopt and does so by radically modifying it to fit within their framework of how people learn (thus, depreciating the value of the strategy tremendously)

There is no better way to look at this then with web 2.0 and social media. There are many great PD programs working to enhance the learning environment with these technologies.

Yet, much of what we see with social and networked media is rooted in a belief system about learning: constructivism, social constructivism, or connectivism.

For teachers with pedagogy rooted in these beliefs on learning, professional development and change is not as challenging. It seems a natural fit. It just makes sense.

But what about those who belief students learn differently than what constructivist or connectivist believe? How are we exploring their beliefs systems to help make sense of the afforded by social and networked media?

A theme emerging from a small research piece that I’ve done is that without a focus on how people learn, no professional development model will succeed with the educators whose belief system on learning is not rooted in one of the three aforementioned theories.

So, What are You Saying?

I’m becoming more convinced that we have to understand and help teachers to understand their beliefs about learning. After all, our beliefs about how people learn inform our practice, our pedagogy. When we fail to address the former, we will never alter the latter. In other words, we have to change the attitude that prevail about how people learn before we can change the direction of how teachers are getting there.

If we don’t, we’ll continue to accept that it is okay to only focus on the innovators. We’ll be okay with labels such as innovator and laggards. We’ll be okay with haves and have nots. We’ll be okay with some students having better opportunities than others.

As a leader, I can’t accept any of those.

There is much to clean up and much research to be done here so criticism, questions, challenges, and concerns as always are welcome.

Ryan Bretag
Glenbrook North High School
Coordinator of Instructional Technology

cc licensed flickr photo by Today is a good day: http://flickr.com/photos/good_day/59482378/

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.