An Uncertain Harvest: A Case Study of Implementation of Innovation a Reader Response by Kieran Faw for EDU 5265 an Internationalization of Curriculum Studies

An Uncertain Harvest: A Case Study of Implementation of Innovation a Reader Response by Kieran Faw for EDU 5265 an Internationalization of Curriculum Studies

As a physics teacher, I know that many concepts taught in school are a challenge for some students. Physics curriculum, especially, is forever changing as our society advances and our understanding of the world and universe around us expands. Therefore, I feel empathetic to those teachers in South Africa. Moreover, just being a teacher can be, in its own right, a challenge. We wear many different professional masks throughout our careers. We often take on the role of parent, counselor, mentor, nurse, diplomat, social worker, elder, improviser, motivational speaker, psychologist, evaluator and finally a teacher. With all of the roles that we are expected to perform throughout our careers, little time is left to modernize the strategies and tools we depend on. After the many “innovations” imposed by the governing bodies as policies change throughout our careers, it will take more time to rebuild the confidence we once had in our daily routines

The teachers of this rural South African schooling system faced many obstacles from the Department of Education. Likewise, they face many environmental limitations such as, lack of materials, adequate space, food and drinking water, which introduced challenges into the daily school routine. Despite the lack of resources, teachers still showed a passion to learn and expand on their understanding of the material they teach and how their students progress each year. Although, these teachers had a willingness to change, they were overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges (Rogan, 2007). The “one-size-fits-all” approach, as Rogan stresses, is futile for the planning of the implementation of new governmental initiatives. Just as we are trained to see every student as unique and modify our teaching styles accordingly, not every teacher or school community is the cookie-cutter replica of their neighbor. Therefore, the dynamics of a particular school community should be taken into consideration when planning strategies for the implementation of new governmental initiatives. In the classroom, these dynamic strategies should be modified accordingly.

I went through a series of emotions while reading this article. Often I felt empathy for the teachers because I can relate to how stressful relearning everything you once knew to be right can be. In the world of Education, the slow and steady development of professional abilities leads to a more meaningful and deeper understanding of what is expected of teachers, whereas training that is rushed and with limited attention to detail leaves little time for personal and professional reflection.

Emphasizing the adoption of new methods, while neglecting the construction of the skills needed for its implementation is a rushed and premature success (Rogan, 2007). Successful long-term changes cannot occur overnight.

The INSET [In-Service Training] that we have received is very effective. During the first training we were very confused. With more workshops, we started understanding. I am now comfortable with OBE [Outcomes-Based Education]. In the past the learners were too dependent on us. With OBE, most are now involved – even the introverts. (Ms. Mamabolo, Interview, May 2002). (Rogan, 107)

At times, I also felt frustrated with the unrealistic timelines governing bodies put on their employees in order to push their own skewed agendas. When teachers are not given a voice or an opportunity for clarification of certain key elements, it becomes more difficult to limit potential misunderstandings or misconceptions of the desired goals of a new initiative.

A top-down approach to professional development should not be the only mode of effective training. In the article Ms. Mahlangu shares the following:

The school principal is not always approachable and tends to be somewhat autocratic. There is no established forum through which teachers or learners can influence management on issues that they deem to be important. If you come with inputs, you are suspected of trying to become the manager. (Rogan, 106)

The need for reassurance and answers to the question “Am I doing this right?” is unnecessary if we can impose critical yet helpful feedback on teacher performance on a regular basis. “During the case-study week, there seemed to be a great desire by staff at the school to know ‘how they were doing’” (Rogan, 110). If strategies are to be successful, substantial and continuous training and feedback is necessary. Assistance without the treat of judgment is essential to answer the above stated questions.

Here in Ontario, the Ministry of Education as well as local school districts have recently released documents aimed at increasing student success in the classroom. Documents such as Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools and the Educators’ Resource Guide (ERG): Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting of Student Achievement introduced by the Ottawa-Carleton district school board, provide teachers with the strategies and tools to enhance student learning and success in the classroom. With every change of government, education evolves (and sometimes reverts backwards) into leading-edge realms of policies and procedures.

There has been a paradigm shift occurring in public education. Teachers must now expect to deliver the curriculum in different ways, at different speeds, according to the strengths and needs of groups of students within their class – what we call differentiated instruction (ERG, 11).

The shifting standards in education require constant reappraisal of teacher abilities and understandings. The primary purpose of the ERG document is to provide educators with guidelines and/or direction for the assessment, evaluation and reporting of student achievement within the school district. It also engages educators in professional dialogue with respect to best practices and cites links to the policies and procedures within the school board.

The fundamental goal of the Growing Success document is to improve student learning through the preparedness of their teachers in respect to the use of practices and procedures the ministry deems valid and reliable. The goal of these practices and procedures is to guide the collection of meaningful information that will help inform instructional decisions, promote student engagement, and improve student learning (Growing Success, 2010). Ontario teachers are fortunate enough to have a strong and well-respected union federation looking out for the best interests of educational professionals.

Immediately after the release of the Growing Success document, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) Growing Success Policy Workgroup released a report entitled “A Resource for Local Leaders to Assist in the Implementation of Growing Success” wherein the federation closely examined the Ministry demands in relation to the rights of teachers.

“The professional judgment of the teacher, acting within the policies and guidelines established by the ministry and board, is critical in determining the strategy that will most benefit student learning” (p. 46 of Growing Success). . . Ministry has confidence in the professional judgment of teachers and that teachers are the ones that are best suited to determine if marks should be deducted for late assignments and that a mark of zero could be assigned to work that is not submitted for evaluation. This is a right that cannot be taken away from teachers. (OSSTF Report, 9)

In this case of new initiatives, the importance of the OSSTF mediation is critical to the success of teachers and a tool to the elimination of a top-down ministry approach. Acquiring additional training for a federation dedicated to protecting the rights of educators has made the transition of the Growing Success initiatives into the classroom trouble-free.

By no means am I suggesting that the Ontario Ministry of Education is better than the Department of Education of South Africa. Both have good intentions. However, admittedly they are both equally too quick to expect immediate and successful results with every change of government. The Ottawa-Carleton district school board also has a program for new teachers called the New Teacher Induction Program or NTIP. This program is designed to provide new teachers (not new graduates) with the skills and resources for assessment, evaluation, reporting, classroom management, differentiated instruction and an understanding of the policies and procedures of the school board. The downfall with this program is that it is only offered to new contract regular-school day teachers. New occasional teachers within the board and new continuing education teachers (those who teach night school and summer school) are left out of this essential training program. For those teachers who receive the training, they feel more prepared and knowledgeable to perform in their daily school communities.

As I read this article, I could not help but relate it to my own experience as a teacher thus far. I have been an occasional teacher with the Ottawa-Carleton district school board for two years. I have taught summer school, at a private school and covered a variety of classes on a semi-regular basis. Little preparation or care, in my opinion, is given to occasional teachers. We are expected to fly by the seat of our pants as it were, without any safety net or support system. I have often asked the question “Am I doing this right?” or “Why am I here?” It has been a difficult struggle trying to learn on my own while attempting to keep a roof over my head. With the limited number of teaching positions and the abundance of occasional teachers, constant dependable income in the field of education is difficult to come by. Due to the financial pressures of the rising cost of living, I am currently working three jobs, completing my masters, 5 months pregnant and struggling to maintain balance in my life all while trying to reduce the very real likelihood of what we might call occasional teacher burnout.

Why do I do this you may ask? Like the teachers of South Africa, I have a willingness to learn and advance my skills. Professional development occurs over time. There must be an individual desire to improve their own abilities for the sake of their professional career not just because the governing body demands it. Often the hardest minds to change are those of experienced teachers set in their ways and blind to the potential advantages of the changing the status quo within an existing system. Time is sacred to a teacher. If new policies and procedures require more work, and the system does not give such teachers the necessary time or incentives to support such change, the road ahead will surely be bumpy.