Comfort is the main obstacle to Education Reform. Upon first stating this, it seems to be a ridiculous statement, so I guess I need to elaborate. This is a subject I discuss with my pre-service teachers at almost every seminar class and teaching observation. Of course it doesn’t have a great effect on my students, because of the arrogance of youth. They all know better than I.
If we ask,” Why aren’t educators engaging more forcefully in reform?” the answer is always the same. Educators are not comfortable with change. When we ask about educators using Tech as a tool for learning, the answer is that educators are not yet comfortable with technology (even though it has been around since the 80’s). I guess time does not create comfort. When we ask why haven’t more educators adopted a teaching method for project-based learning, or problem-solving methods, or authentic learning, or a focus on critical thinking skills, or Electronic portfolios to replace grades? Obvious answer: Educators are not yet comfortable with these subjects.
Since comfort is having such an effect on Education, I guess the next logical thing to do is to determine what “comfort” is. I am not a researcher, so I am not dealing with data. I am an observer, so I am more than comfortable offering my observations on this topic of comfort. I know from watching ten cooking shows each week that comfort food is a recognized commodity. It is often a very familiar food that a person grew up with. It comforts them to eat it as it brings back all the memories and emotions of a safer, earlier time. Maybe we need to think of learning in terms of a commodity. As far as it applies to educators, I think they harken to a time in their lives when learning for them was easy or at least doable. They may have worked at it but it was uncomplicated and it made sense. It only stands to reason that, if it worked for them as a student, it should work for their students as well. Go with what you know! Not so fast Kimosabe
Working with student teachers I have noted one problem that overtakes some student teachers. Starting out, they have a tendency to fall back on what they are most familiar with from their most recent learning experience. They are familiar, or comfortable, with the lecture method of college professors and occasionally student teachers believe that college lectures will work with the students. . It only stands to reason that, if it worked for them as a student, it should work for their students as well. The problem is that they are working with secondary students not highly motivated college kids who have already mastered what the education system had to offer.
Here comes my theory on why so many educators don’t get it. As I often tell my students, they are in a small percentage of people who understand and succeed in the education system. The fact that they made it to college puts them in a very small percentage of all people who complete a secondary education. With every additional year that they complete college commitments, they climb further up the ladder of the educational elite. They are comfortable with the system, as it is, because they have been successful in that system. They represent maybe the top ten percent of the country. Their comfort with the system has assured their success. Their success reassures their comfort. The problem they will face as educators, however, is that they will be working with 90% of kids who are not as comfortable with the education system the way that their teacher is comfortable with it.
This also holds true for teachers of generations before. It is not a generational thing however, it is a learning thing. For some, their comfort level may rest in the era in which they went to school. It was most likely an era when Technology was not incorporated into curriculum. It certainly was an era where there was little done with the internet, or social learning. It was a time when there was no WEB 2.0 tools enabling creativity at no cost, and could be accessed at anytime, and anyplace. It was a time of lecture as opposed to project based learning. Direct instruction was king and creation of content was best exemplified in the research paper. Grades ruled and electronic portfolios were a theory. This is what too many educators were comfortable with, because it is what made them successful academically. The attitude making all this possible is,”If it was good enough for me, it is good enough for my students.”This, to me, is what is meant by “the teacher’s comfort level”.
Everyone supports reform, but few support change that may be too uncomfortable. I am not saying that teachers are bad. I am a teacher who supports teachers. I am saying that the comfort level obstacle to reform must be overcome. We need to lead people from their comfort zones and get them comfortable with new tools and new methods that will make a difference in education. They need to be led to new comfort zones.
There are so many things that need to be changed it is difficult to pick a starting point. The biggest obstacle however, is change itself. Until the status quo is made more uncomfortable than reform there may be no reform. We need to focus on Professional Development and providing teachers with what they need to affect reform. That will take change and change is never comfortable.
Great teachers do not come from college classrooms; they are developed on the job. We need to get educators comfortable with a new model for teaching and learning. This can only be done with thoughtful and meaningful Professional Development. The educators comfort level, with what was helpful to them in the past, is not what makes 90% of our students comfortable in the present. We are losing a majority of our kids who are uncomfortable with a system that they do not find relevant. We can’t let the comfort of educators outweigh the discomfort that a majority of our students feel every day with our education system.