Imagine a team of eight Lockheed Martin rocket scientists designing a rocket. They have to be on the same page regarding current rocket design research or the rocket they make will be pretty bad.
We are lucky. We can be in a department that is not cohesive because, apparently, our product, children’s knowledge of a language, is not as important as a rocket. We can come up with a bad product and actually keep our jobs.
Whereas the rocket project manager must absolutely keep his team focused on best practices in rocket design or get fired, requiring the team to work together at the risk of losing their jobs, principals can just go along with conflicting opinions in their foreign language departments.
They are never happy in such chaos, but few seem to have the time or inclination to do anything really radical about it. Radical, in your face, change is not a word that describes many school districts right now. Personalities blow away meaningful dialogue.
I know there is change going on in one district in Wisconsin, because I met a German teacher this summer who describes the tenor of the change there as total from the ground up, but, in general, raw change is not welcome in schools. Too much ego all around, too many feathers to ruffle.
The success of the rocket company depends on the project manager keeping up with best practices/current research in rocket science. Since schools aren’t dealing with a need for profit, however, they can exempt themselves from having to be up on the recommendations of their national organizations.
School administrators can pass on requiring that their department work together using the best current research available – they can just complain that the department lacks cohesion and turn it into a problem of personalities.
If one entrenched (i.e. doing the same thing every year without results) teacher has the ear of a vice principal or principal, that is enough to keep the stinkophonical status quo going for years. People with new ideas, who need support in that situation, hide in their classroom because departmental infighting is too exhausting on top of a full teaching load. Thus, change is slow.
Doug Stone has insight into how change occurs in people, resistance to change, and the like. I am going to ask him to blog on that topic here. Doug?
Now, in the end, are we to really conclude from all this that rockets are more important than kids? Is this possible? Is this true?
P.S. Then how do we agree on best practices, best current research? One way would be to just look at what our national organization – ACTFL – values as best. Their recent recommendation that we use the language 90% of the time or more in our classrooms is based on the work of Stephen Krashen. Maybe that’s a good place to start.