Changing schools: what does it mean?by Abu Salahuddin
EVERY society promotes and rewards change. Daily newspapers routinely report new technological advances. Our newly purchased computers become second hand within months as more sophisticated models are released. We now walk around with cell phones literally attached to our ears; mailing a letter is passed, instant text massage responses and audio/video chatting is expected. We can shoot photographs which might be transmitted to the other part of the world within a minute. Digital is now the word that describes how we view things, communicate and complete our works. The speed and breadth of change worldwide is astounding; its place in some fabrics of Bangladesh is significant but what about the school.
Change, whether personal or professional, large or small, local or global, is a concept that defies definition. Change involves emotions and often defies logic. It is complicated and complex, yet much of time most of us, as individuals, manage to deal with it. But there is no question change can be rewarding, even joyous. Frequently we seek change, fight hard for it and at last celebrate it. However, change involves an individual endeavour and experience and feel like a struggle, a battle.
Changing direction is not easy, especially for our schools. It depends on the essence of the school: how schools define what they do, make their decisions, and respond to parents and the community as well as how instruction is delivered, accountability is defined and head teachers do their job. Regarding change, schools in Bangladesh might be classified in two categories: conventional and collegial. Conventional schools are characterised by teacher autonomy and isolation, a little conversation among them and the conversations are about social activities rather than professional, and a feeling research and professional development is unnecessary. These schools have no common goals and no collective sense of what they are trying to accomplish as a school. The head teachers of these schools serve as a manager, keeping things moving alone such as discipline is maintained. Most of our schools enact these characteristics. Besides, the collegial schools are effective schools. In such schools, satisfaction is derived from professional work accomplished together and from the achievement of students. The head teachers served as instructional leaders in these schools, making understand the message that every student could achieve success. Conversations about teaching-learning, new ideas are encouraged and valued there. Teachers and staff welcome research findings and found great merit in professional development. These schools are always committed to changing their direction which seldom can be seen in our country.
However, school change is not rational and linear. Change is a process, not an event. It is a messy and unpredictable process. It is such a journey which often goes astray, takes a backward spin, or experiences natural ups and downs. Therefore, to change a school is an incredible endeavour, especially if the change is substantial and has meaning. A successful change story consists three parts: Where the school is, where it wants to go and how it will be there.
These parts can be evaluated considering five major things about the school. The first and foremost is instruction: how teachers are teaching and how students are learning, the methods and materials are being used, how students are engaged, and so on. The second concern is organisation, meaning how the school uses resources, such as personnel, time, funding and space. The third concern is governance, which includes studying how decisions are made, how head teachers conduct them (teachers) and how power is distributed in the school. The fourth concern is accountability means how does the school define and measure its success. The final concern goes to the culture of the school, the underlying values and beliefs. Based on these criteria schools can understand their current position, able to set their destination and might start to drag the road for the journey.
Our secondary schools are on the way of changing for few years. Different initiatives have been taken but the progress of change efforts is still in mark. As a teacher and researcher in education field, I would like to mention some dimensions for change efforts of our successful schools. Each of the dimensions addresses a fundamental question about school change. First, how meaningful is the change? The change will be meaningful if there has been a measurable change in attitudes, beliefs and values of teachers, students and parents; the practices, especially in classroom instruction, dramatically changed; the changes have been driven by the teachers and they ‘own’ the change; students and teachers want to come to school, enjoy being in school, and they often stay beyond normal school hours.
Second, how deep and broad is the change? Is it systematic rather than isolated? If the change is not merely affecting one classroom, it is more widespread (systematic) in the school. The changes in school have also been felt in decisions about instruction, organisation, management and authority. There is a perception in the school among stakeholders (students, teachers and parents) that positive change has taken place. Moreover, the larger community believe that positive change has happen in the school, as reflected in a higher number of applicants, visits etc.
Third, how is the change focused? Is it student-centred, looking at teaching and learning? It includes the overall quality of teaching that is improved; innovative teaching practices such as cooperative learning and problem based learning have been initiated, adopted and sustained. There is alignment of curriculum, instruction, assessment and standards. The school culture promotes professional development, research and the idea of a ‘learning community’ where everybody works together for a certain goal.
Fourth, how is the change measured? The change can be evaluated through ‘in school’ and outside evaluation. A sharp increase in student achievement as measured in-school assessment such as SBA, student grades, exhibitions etc reflects valuable change. Besides, ‘outside’ evaluations such as public examination that points increased achievement of students imitates effective change. It also includes increasing promotion rates, job placement, number of visitors to school, and recognition and awards for improved performance of school.
Change happens infrequent to expectation since change is unpredictable and non-linear in nature. Change disrupts our usual routines and challenges our assumptions. Overall, change is stressful because there are so much to do in a little time. In Bangladesh, most schools cannot change them since they do not look at themselves to change; even some do not understand where they are. At best, they may accept or reject someone else’s views of how they are doing. But head teachers, teachers, students and parents need to examine where the school is. If it is not held, how the schools will move to another position?
Abu Salahuddin is an assistant professor at the IER, Dhaka University and a doctoral researcher at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
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