One of my favorite TED talks is Barry Schwartz’ “The Paradox of Choice.” Schwartz makes the
point that choice isn’t always a good thing and that at some point too many choices are as bad as
no choice at all.
Thinking about the big challenge of changing the learning landscape in our schools is
something that keeps many of us working tirelessly and often being frustrated with the results.
Whether it’s a lack of resources, time, commitment or understanding, major barriers continue to
exist that has meaningful change held at bay.
Research is pretty clear about the importance of choice, which leads to engagement, which leads to learning.
I’m not sure I’ve seen any significant change happen when professionals aren’t given a choice. However in
cultures that choose efficiency over emotion, often choice isn’t seen as essential and professionals get told what
to do. What usually happens is that no matter what is told, professionals go back to their classrooms and do what
they think is right regardless. We’ve been playing this game in education for a long time.
In his book, Evocative Coaching, Bob Tschannen-Moran claims that teachers do not resist making
changes; they resist people who try to make them change. Once coaches abandon the role of change agent,
we can build trust and rapport and engage teachers in nonjudgmental conversations about their experiences,
feelings, needs, ambitions, and goals.
What’s really frustrating about that statement is that, while it’s true, it takes a long time and in the end,
there’s no guarantee it will turn out the way leaders hope. Real change happens because we find strength and
support to move forward with ideas we’ve adopted. Change agents might be useful to plant a seed, but that’s
not the real change. Real change requires an
investment in time to develop and nurture
No amount of instruction or PD will matter
unless a teacher wants to change. What we’re
currently witnessing is pockets of change—
teachers who are embracing what it means to
learn today and are willing to make adjustments
in their practice to make learning better for
their students. I doubt if any of these teachers
were forced to change. They had choice.
That’s both a great thing but also a
frustrating thing. You may never see the change
you’re so invested in if you allow teachers a
choice. Unless we strip teachers from their
professional status, we’re going to have to face
the dilemma of the paradox of choice. We can
change curriculum and design environments
and schedules that promote certain types of
learning, but as long we consider teachers
professionals, they will operate as autonomous
individuals. Create a culture where reflective
and innovative practice is prized, but allow
teachers to make the choice that’s owed to them.
I have no answers. I’m going to continue to
plant seeds and when and where I can, build
the relationships and support for those who
have chosen to make a change.