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You can't change what you don't see as a problem
The hidden variable in school transformation
This is @edpsychprof's newsletter for those interested in transforming schools to become places where children (and teachers) can thrive.
I was prepping for class yesterday, and I came across an interesting finding from a meta-analysis of the research on teacher expectations interventions. Before I share that finding, I should probably backup a bit to give a bit of context. Back in the late 1960’s, Rosenthal and Jacobson conducted a study showing that if you tell teachers that a particular group of students will show tremendous growth in their class, student achievement will rise accordingly, a self-fulfilling prophecy which became known as the “Pygmalion effect.”
The focus of the meta-analysis I read was to review the ways to influence teachers’ expectations. Though the authors of the review found that interventions did work to change teachers’ expectations (deBoer et al. 2018), there was an important caveat: “Teachers have to realize the need to change” (p. 195, emphasis added).
I think that this idea — of recognizing the need to change—is the secret sauce to all real change, and one that those of us interested in making schools better places for kids and teachers often fail to take into real consideration in our reform efforts.
To change something, first one has to truly believe that there is a problem that needs to be changed.
Sure, there are other factors that are important—autonomy, efficacy, expectancies of success—but first, a precursor to all of these factors, is that the person being targeted for change has to really believe there’s a problem in need of change.
My colleagues and I found a similar phenomenon in our experimental study of teacher change—the issue we were presenting them with had to become personally relevant to them for change to take place and to last (Gill et al., 2020).
This isn’t just a phenomenon with teachers. I’ve been listening to Bono’s engaging memoir, Surrender, and in it, he discusses working closely with a coalition of AIDS activists in the early aughts to get AIDS medication to Africa. They spent two years working to find a way to help the Bush administration see that solving the AIDS crisis was instrumental to achieving the White House’s foreign policy objectives. Only when the Bush administration was able to recognize that their financial and political goals for Africa would be better realized with the AIDS crisis solved did the administration allocate an unprecedented amount of funding to support this initiative.
All real change starts with taking a bigger perspective, either with ourselves—taking clear stock of our life and noticing where change is needed,—or with others, taking their goals and desires into account as we present information that may change the way they live and work in the world. We can’t force change. We can’t logically talk people into change. We have to help them realize the need for change. We have to make it personal.
Hot takes, resources, and more….
I created this Habits resource for a recent talk I gave to the UCF Athletic Association on forming elastic habits that last.
I got so excited by talking about habit change that I decided to offer some free mini coaching sessions on creating elastic habits for a limited time, just because it’s fun for me.
This quote by Alfie Kohn explains why you can’t trust school ratings. It applies even to public schools because property values keep schools segregated by family income and thus selective by design:
I'm sorry, but you cannot be selective in your admissions and then brag about the outcome of your graduates. You cannot have both. -Alfie Kohn
References (That’s the academic in me….)
de Boer, H., Timmermans, A. C., & van der Werf, M. P. C. (2018). The effects of teacher expectation interventions on teachers’ expectations and student achievement: Narrative review and meta-analysis. Educational Research and Evaluation, 24(3-5), 180-200. https://doi.org/10.1080/13803611.2018.1550834
Gill, M. G., Trevors, G., Greene, J. A., & Algina, J. (2020). Don’t take it personally? The role of personal relevance in conceptual change. The Journal of Experimental Education, 90(1), 1-22. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1080/00220973.2020.1754152
Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom. The Urban Review, 3(1), 16-20.
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