Ask any teacher to make radical changes to their practise and they will likely feel threatened. Change of any kind threatens to upset the proverbial apple cart and take our lives out of balance. As we increase the size of the risk we increase the potential fail. As we increase in teacher years, we increase the investment we have put in to creating balance. I will go out on a limb here and generalize that a large part of the reason real deep change does not occur in our schools is teachers do not fully trust the culture they work in sufficiently to take large risks with their reputations and practice.
I am going to go further out on the limb to say that I believe that many teachers are in fact looking for ways to transition from a teacher centered classroom, and it is not that they do not want to change; it is that they feel it is too risky a proposition. When someone (usually an expert from out-of-town, who you have never met before) comes along and suggests new practices, whether it is, PBL, inquiry, or modeling (insert your favorite educational flavour of the month) , the roadblock is the perceived risk and the lack of a “safety net” below.
In the chapter “The Emergence of Trust”, in Start with Why, Simon Sinek, describes it like this:
“No matter how experienced, no matter how proficient, a trapeze artist will not attempt a totally new death-defying leap without first trying it with a net below him. And depending on how death-defying the trick is, he may insist on ALWAYS having a net when performing the trick.”
Now I know I am not a trapeze artist, nor do I perform death-defying acts, however my brain does not differentiate. Risks to my brain are just that: risks. As we move into risky situations, we move from acting out of our thinking brain to the more primitive protective and reacting brain.
I have puzzled over why I found the making and archiving of videos in the flipped classroom to be so freeing and transformative. Why did the flipped classroom paradigm move me forward, when I have tried dozens of different techniques over the years? I have imagined the flip class as a strong bridge transporting me safely into the future. I still find this metaphor useful. However it did not fully explain why I found re-defining my role in the classroom, the taking of a large risk, acceptable and doable within the flipped classroom. Whereas in the past I was only willing to make small timid changes (that never produced any real traction).
I think it comes down to simply this: if I was going to change, risk it all and go all in, I had to feel I had a safety net to catch me if I fell. The skills I had developed over my teaching career became that net. I knew I could rely on these, fall back on these so to speak and I knew from past experiences they would keep me, my practise and my reputation, safe. I used these skills I trusted to make videos, to build a figurative safety net for myself, so that if I fell, I would have something to fall into.
So are videos just lectures in a video format as some critics of the flipped class say? Yes and no. I see it almost like an optical illusion, yes they look like lectures, but they are not the show. And they are ALSO…my safety net.
And who knows, as my skills and confidence increase I may even be able to “perform” without them. I may consider, the explore-flip-apply model, I may do all kinds of things! But please, please understand that I will do so when I feel safe.
As Sinek describes:
“The system thrives….but not without trust. For those within a community, or an organization, they must trust that their leaders provide a net – practical or emotional. With the feeling of support, those in the organization are more likely to put in extra effort that ultimately benefits the group as a whole.”
So what do you think? Is it that teachers don’t want to change? Or is it about a lack of TRUST?