Time-honored traditions are very hard to change, even if they are obviously standing in the way of improving the standards of organizational culture, relationships between the community members and the overall performance delivered by these members. Schools are the exact representation of the paradoxical phenomenon of culture as both the key factor facilitating change and an obstacle to change. On the one hand, such an element of school culture as encouraging students for perfect scores instead of knowledge acquisition may block the evolution of both the students and the standards of the establishment. When creating the cultural practices and values of a school, one must keep in mind that the latter must not be static; otherwise, stagnation and even a regress are possible.
Speaking of the particular element of school culture that was mentioned above, one must point at the fact that it is, actually, a product of several key school rituals. For example, the regular tests that students are supposed to take during the semester contribute to the impression that test results are more significant that the actual learning process. The process of drilling and revisiting the questions that will most likely be in these tests, which a number of teachers carry out, also adds to the importance of tests rather than the information that students learn. The influence of the family also affects the students’ priorities to a considerable degree.
As reputable studies say, parents often push their children to be the best in the class, therefore, creating the impression in the child that grades are of the ultimate significance; such parents “find their children’s grades more important than what their children learn” (Freeman & Scheidecker, 2012, p. 64)
Taking a closer look at the issue, one will inevitably notice that the problem is more complex than it might seem. On the one hand, changing the existing system of principles is quite simple; all that is needed is to restate the moral and educational values for students to follow them: “Students’ approaches to learning are regarded as being context‐specific and therefore susceptible to change” (Vanthournout, 2011, p. 41).
However, one must take into account that behavioral patterns are not easy to change, especially when it comes to such elements of daily routine as studying. Unless the students are provided with a decent motivation for a change, they will keep on utilizing the same principles, putting the emphasis on the grades rather than paying attention to what they actually learn. In fact, students’ unwillingness to change the traditional learning pattern imposed on them by the school rules is quite understandable – after all, their scores predispose their future careers to a considerable degree. To change the students’ motivation and convince them to pay as much attention to what they learn and how to use the newly acquired knowledge in their further studying and career, it will be necessary to reconsider the leadership principles, which the school is guided by.
Indeed, the transition from one behavioral and learning pattern to another can only be carried out once the students’ motivation is enhanced. Therefore, it will be required to replace the current ethical principles with a renewed code of ethics, which the students will be supposed to comply with. Wagner and Kegan warn that the process is extremely complicated, seeing how students have rather an unflattering image of an average teacher: “Only four in ten public school students thought most of their teachers treated them with respect” (Wagner & Kegan, 2006, p. 43) To convince the students that the new code is better and actually worth following, teachers will have to use a flexible system of encouragement.
In order to enhance the efficacy of the new methods, it will be required to introduce a role model for students to follow; in other words, it will be crucial that teachers should adopt the elements of not only transformative but also charismatic leadership style. The advocacy of new learning principles carried out by the person, whom the students can relate to is essential since the teachers do not have much time for shaping their students’ attitude towards studying – even for those who are still in middle school still have only a few years for remembering the studying patterns that they will be using pretty much for the rest of their lives.
Students’ unwillingness to commit to new responsibilities may be considered the key obstacle in the implementation of the changes suggested above. Because of the pressure of grades, as well as the issues related to the studying process, e.g., the inability to understand the course material, most students are most likely to give a cold shoulder to the teachers promoting new commitments; particularly, the accountability issue may stand in the way. Since the students will have to focus on not only the grades but also how they are going to use what they have learned in the course of the curriculum.
As it has been stressed above, it would be wrong to expect that the students will welcome new changes with open arms; however, while reinforcing new values seems comparatively easy, establishing the concept of personal responsibility as the basis for new ethical principles of the school to be based on is fraught with a range of difficulties, students’ fear of responsibility being the key one. As Wagner and Kegan explain, “The potential of new data systems, the challenges of school choice, and budget problems add to the confusion” (Wagner & Kegan, 2006, p. xii).
Therefore, focusing on the positive effects of personal responsibility can be the answer to the problem. Naturally, the teachers will have to be honest about the challenges that personal responsibility entails for students. However, by putting the emphasis on the benefits that students will be able to enjoy, starting with both good performance and improved knowledge acquisition process to the students’ personal growth, the teachers will be able to create the environment for the seeds of new ethical and studying principles to be planted. As Wagner and Kegan put it, the changes in the ethical dimension “should feel quite important to you, so that you imagine its realization, if you could achieve it, as personally valuable and powerful” (Wagner & Kegan., 2006, p. 53).
Speaking of my own personal and professional evaluation of the change regarding the students’ motivation, I must admit that the need to convince students to study for the sake of their career instead of their grades is quite obvious.
As far as the professional reaction towards the implementation of the changes goes, I will have to mention that the reconsideration of the school’s ethical code may affect the students’ idea of studying in general. In other words, students will most likely be reconsidering the role of teachers, as well as their own roles in the education process, which is not necessarily a bad thing, yet a very distracting one. Focused on redefining their behavior and searching for their role in the system of education, the students may forget about the basic goal, i.e., knowledge acquisition.
Nevertheless, with an appropriate leadership style adopted and the proper ethical values introduced to the students (Wagner & Kegan, 2006, p. 23), the aforementioned problems will be quite easy to avoid or, in the worst-case scenario, get rid of. Apart from the aforementioned transformational leadership principle, which alone is powerful enough, the concept of change leadership should be considered closed. Defined as a “guide to the development of leadership capacities for transforming our schools” (Wagner & Kegan, 2006, p. xvii), it allows for improving the entire system of education and, therefore, correct the behavioral patterns of both teachers and students. In other words, establishing clear goals for students and teachers to reach for, with the clarifications regarding the necessity to strive for these goals provided (Wagner & Kegan, 2006, p. 11).
There is no doubt that teachers should encourage students for good performance; however, when the emphasis is solely on receiving good marks instead of the importance of knowledge acquisition and its further use, a school is incapable of providing its students with the environment that facilitates successful studying and academic progress. More importantly, the students will be unable to utilize certain skills, even if they acquire them in the process of pursuing perfect scores on their tests. Therefore, in the given case, it is crucial that the required changes should be implemented. Unless the school values are reconsidered and new principles of culture are introduced, it will be quite problematic to teach students efficiently.
Freeman, W. & Scheidecker, D. (2012). Becoming a legendary teacher: To instruct and inspire. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.
Vanthournout, G. (2011). Patterns in student learning: Exploring a person-oriented and a longitudinal research-perspective. Philadelphia, PA: Maklu.
Wagner, T., & Kegan, R. (2006). Change leadership: A practical guide to transforming our schools. San Francisco, CA Jossey-Bass.