Logic Does Not Apply

School reformers are trying to shift the deeply rooted school culture that has been in place for a century. We are attempting to shift the beliefs and values of a school community that are deeply entrenched. In my experience, when seeking to change the beliefs, values, and culture of others, logic does not apply.

If we need proof of this, reflect on our own good intentions. Most of us would like to shed a few pounds. We know we are over our best weight and that having the extra pounds is not healthy. We have a desire to change. We know it’s the right thing to do. The problem is that we drive past the gym on the way to and from work and don’t stop. We continue to eat between meals or eat meals that we know are not healthy. As a culture we continue to “Supersize” our waistlines. Why aren’t we all at our target weights? It takes more than logic to shift a lifetime of eating habits, deeply held, and sometimes, invisible attitudes about eating. Similarly, it is just as difficult for classroom teachers and school cultures to change their habits of practice, attitudes, and behaviors.

Most of us live in the hope that a good logical presentation of facts will do the trick. If only it were that easy. Wouldn’t it be great if all we had to do were show Karl Fisch’s “Do You Know” video, have everyone read “The World Is Flat”, and invite a celebrity keynote to inspire us? Wouldn’t it be great if we could blog our way to transformation? Think about the example of losing weight or quitting smoking…reading books and listening to speakers may help; but there is much, much more involved in “real” change.

I hear it argued that teachers’ fear technology and that is holding us back from transforming education. While there is some fear, I don’t believe that is the key obstacle to change. Some argue that teachers are deliberately fighting change and imply that it is a lack of professionalism. Once again, I don’t believe our primary obstacle is a lack of professionalism, or an “ostrich head in the sand” scenario.

The fact is that human beings like to operate in their “comfort zones”. Let’s say a teacher wants to try teaching with the inquiry method. Instead of giving answers, at which she is very adept, she decides to ask questions and let students find the answers. She prepares an inquiry-based lesson. As she delivers it she feels clumsy and lacks confidence. The kids don’t respond the way she had hoped. She may say to herself, “This is way too difficult. You need to be a special kind of person to teach this way.” She may try another inquiry lesson…or not. It’s so easy to go back to the way that has always worked for her rather than continuing the frustrating path of these inquiry lessons.

When I coached basketball, I remember kids shooting and making baskets with two hand set shots. At a basic level, this outmoded way of shooting worked for them. They could make their shots. I knew that it also would hold them back from progressing any further in the sport. There was no way that they could succeed and continue to shoot with two hands. I would show them the proper way to shoot with one hand. It felt odd for them. As they were learning this new way of doing things they would miss more than they would make. In fact, they made fewer shots with the proper one handed method than they did with the old two-handed shot. Many of these kids couldn’t deal with the uncomfortable side of change. They would only shoot properly when I was around. When I wasn’t…back to two hands. Was this fear? Was this a lack of professionalism? Or just human beings demonstrating that habits of practice are hard to change?

I invite us to include serious personal (affective) and organizational culture, change plans in every technology plan.

I also believe that it would be helpful if we would reflect on our own personal resistance to change. We’re human beings so it’s going to be there in some part of our lives. If we’re courageously self-honest about our own experience with the discomfort of change, we’ll be better able to help others deal with theirs.

The question we should be asking is, “How can I make disruptive and uncomfortable personal and professional change easier for those in my classrooms and schools?

The wonderful paradox is that in order to fully utilize technology to transform teaching and learning; we need to focus on the people, not simply the technology…

…and people are much more complex than technology!


11 thoughts on “Logic Does Not Apply

  1. I’m also involved in trying to convince teachers to change their ways and adopt technology in their teaching, and share the sense of frustration at what often seems a mule-like resistance. While there’s surely something to the “comfort zone” explanation you offer, perhaps there’s something even simpler at work. I’ve come to the conclusion that if what you’re recommending appears to create extra *work* for people – even if only in a transitional phase – then it has little chance of being adopted widely. Put another way, things will only be adopted if it promises to reduce the amount of effort they have to put in. Partly this is just natural human laziness. But most teachers are not lazy people. Rather, they’re already in a position where, even working very hard every day/week/month, they can hardly meet all their existing commitments. My hunch is that if only we could dramatically reduce the workload on teachers, we’d find many more of them eager to move outside their comfort zones (or at least, to the edge of those zones – that’s the most fun place to be). Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen.

  2. Like so many things that we do, we want instant success and instant results and when we don’t get them we look for reasons why our “logic” hasn’t had the desired changes. So when losing weight or stopping smoking, it’s we lack time or it isn’t the right time with all the other things going on in our lives. The example you give is very real, If you were to change the method to include technology, you’d have the usual situation that most teachers experience. In my experience, in order for change to take place, we have to persist in our endeavour or we must not be given the option to return to what we were doing. As things now stand in education, that is not an option since if all teachers were to make the move to using technology there isn’t the actual hardware to accommodate the change. To make it real, we will need to expend some serious resources. I’m not sure school systems want to do that. We need to be realistic in our expectations and what is possible. Let’s look at incremental changes as a wholesale change is highly unlikely.

  3. Pete
    Thanks for emphasizing the need to support people. I agree that we’re misguided to expect logical presentations to create significant changes. Telling stories works better. Some stories weave webs that heal psychological wounds with “good spider medicine” 🙂

    I like how you’ve changed the diagnosis of “resistance to change” from fear or “lack to professionalism” to “comfort zones”. There’s a story I’ve told many of my college students to help them “get out of their comfort zone”. I rewrote it with a new illustration this morning. I posted it to my blog as “Changing comfort zones”.

  4. Tom,
    Our challenge, now, is to develop a process for educational and personal change that accelerates and supports the transformative journey.

  5. Kelly,
    A few comments:

    “…in order for change to take place, we have to persist in our endeavour or we must not be given the option to return to what we were doing.”

    I agree persistence is important and I believe that all options should always be open. This is about choice and will. I believe that most people want to do the right thing, and make the right choices. Things get out of balance when we force what we believe on other people. We get compliance, we get people going through the motions because they were forced to.

    You’re also right about the amount of technology it would take to support every teacher and student if they were to begin to use the tools on a daily basis.

    Finally, if we begin to look at the great cultural changes of our lifetimes…Ghandi in India, MLK and civil rights, Lincoln and slavery, Susan B. Anthony and womens’ right to vote, etc. ….Somewhere in the lessons they teach us is the foreshadowing of what it might take to transform educational cultures and restrictive institutions.


  6. Pete, I just ran across a 4 and a half minute movie called Web 2.0: The Machine is US/ing US and it raised personal questions about my own “view” of education and learning.

    It discussed the workings of a new culture on the web…. Web 2.0 defined.
    Since there have been more than 2 and a half million views, this is not a new posting, and it took 4 months to find its way into my communication space. The movie challenged me since it suggests a new experience in cyberspace creation- the “mashup”. Reviewing the term brought up POPFLY and other projects.

    It seems that the web as we know it is not only an open and rich communication resource, but it is a constantly-reconfigurable “place” that can, at any moment, be different than the moment before.

    This aspect of change.. of a “place” that constantly shifts around… challenges institutions that try to ANCHOR us in a a place-determined reality. In other words, school is meant for learning. McDonald’s is meant for eating quickly. Washington is for politicians. And so on.

    The Internet, however, is a place in constant flux. Learning methods there change and morph every second. It is not STABLE and defining it is like trying to hold a live fish. It is not only the tools that are changing daily, but the methods of application and the ability to change and repurpose any tool creates something that is, at best, difficult to hold onto.

    Instability is a hard concept to sell to people who prize stability and a grounded reality. I think the Internet represents a great cultural challenge to us all, and especially to those of us who spent our lives trying to create order out of chaos, to present a world of brick and mortar as a SAFE place in which to learn, grow, and mature.

    Tom mentions atmosphere and how we treat people. You also say that PEOPLE are the most important element in learning. What happens when PEOPLE begin to see themselves learning in an “earthquake zone” where what they learned today has become different tomorrow, and the tools they use grow wings one day and fins the next?

    Cultural change or chaos? I’m never sure these days as I try one tool, love it, and see it go somewhere else and become something different within days.

    Yesterday’s listserv is today’s discussion board is tomorrow’s blog is …?
    Am I now subservient to “change” and must I accept instability as a way of life?

  7. At my school, every student and teacher has a laptop computer. But getting the teachers to use the technology has been difficult. Much of it is because they are “digital natives” and don’t feel they are trained enough to use the technology, especially if something goes wrong.

    What I’ve tried to do is find technology that is subject specific, like Google Earth for US History classes or Blogging for English classes.

    When I did that, they seemed more open to using the technology, but still didn’t because of “time” issues and standardized tests. Teachers believe using technology takes away from preparing students for these state mandated tets.

    So, next year, I’m trying to muscle it more. In our district, each high school has 4 assistant principals that are responsible for 2-3 departments. I’m going to train the APs in the technology and get them to observe teachers for the technology they should be using.

    I’m hoping this top-down approach will work better than the bottom-up approach I’ve tried for the last two years.


  8. I see where Dan is coming from in his comment but I have a different view.

    What happens when PEOPLE begin to see themselves learning in an “earthquake zone” where what they learned today has become different tomorrow, and the tools they use grow wings one day and fins the next?

    I’d see it less like an earthquake zone and more like a river. Things flow in rivers and nothing there ever stays the same but it’s not a destructive event like an earthquake, it’s simply the way rivers work. You can learn about the river and come to know it. That knowledge is constant. The details and context might change but the real learning and knowledge doesn’t. If you learn to communicate, to express yourself, to be an independent learner then whether a tool has “fins” or “wings” won’t really matter. It’s inconsequential.

    Instability is also very different in my mind than change. Instability is a bad thing that indicates something inherently wrong with the core. That’s not the Internet I know . Things are changing rapidly but rarely for the worse and certainly not at the basic level. I can almost always find both the old and the new on the Internet and decide which I’d like to use. The Internet is still a place where people go to find, create and share information. The tools have changed but not the goals.

    At the base of it, the Internet is pretty solid. Most of the content is in text or text with graphics. There are lots of new applications and ways to write, move and interact with information being created but that’s not instability, it’s growth. Can all this new stuff cause confusion and frustration if you aren’t used to it? Sure, but I think it’s wrong to categorize it as bad. It’s just different than what you may be used to but all the core reasons the Internet has become so popular are unchanged.


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