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Administration, Creativity, Education, Leadership, Teaching, Technology

Breaking Habits: Rethinking Current Educational Practices

Theme 1:  Change

flickr photo by xcode

For the past several weeks, I have been researching hybrid schools and blended learning environments (a combination of virtual learning and traditional face-to-face instruction).  My efforts are part of an exciting new opportunity to design and pilot a “bricks and clicks” program with the goal of integrating technology in a manner that will truly individualize student learning.  An examination of several innovative public education programs/models has been cause for personal reflection on the direction of public education reform.

It is possible that the phrase “old habits die-hard” was coined in response to efforts at public educational reform.  As I have been in the process of examining new and innovative solutions in the realm of virtual education, it has become apparent how engrained many of our current practices have become (I am as guilty of perpetuating this as anyone else).  In many cases, we do things simply because it has always been done that way.  We fail to consider what is in the best interest of our students–or worse, we choose to ignore things we know should change. This obviously applies to the instructional delivery models we use, but think about some of our other “old habits.”

  • The traditional bell schedule
  • Physical arrangement of classrooms – student desks, teacher desks, whiteboards
  • Use of a 90, 80, 70, 60, 50 grading scale…or any grading scale for that matter
  • Homework
  • Teacher evaluation models
  • Professional development methods
  • School hours – 8:00 – 3:00, etc.
  • Discipline strategies
  • Policies (don’t chew gum, don’t use cell phones, no running, raise your hand, etc.)
  • The school calendar
  • Worksheets
  • Concepts of how students learn

This list could go on.  I am not arguing that all of these things are inherently bad, but how many of us would savor the thought of going into a faculty meeting to discuss each of these items with the objective of arriving at consensus? My guess is there would be some dissension.  I would also be willing to bet that someone would say (or at least imply) something along this vein: “that’s what it was like when I went to school, and I turned out alright.”  Unacceptable.

Those who follow #edchat (an education forum on Twitter) see daily reminders of the dedication, and innovation happening in our schools. Many of the participants are leaders in the implementation of educational technology–they are people who understand that decision-making should begin, and end, with the best interest of students in mind. These are individuals that realize the importance of creativity, innovation, empathy, problem-solving, and relationships.  Their “complaint to innovate” ratio is extremely low.

Those of us involved in public education must be willing to accept that we may not only need to change old habits, we may need to completely rethink our current practices. All options must be on the table.  Public education can be innovative, it can foster creativity, and it can provide purposeful learning opportunities for all students.  The question is, are we willing to tackle the difficult issues that will make this possible?  There are many success stories, but change isn’t easy–like teaching an old dog new tricks.


About azjd

Junior high principal by day, aspiring difference maker, and Jedi in my own mind. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.


10 thoughts on “Breaking Habits: Rethinking Current Educational Practices

  1. An excellent post, Jeff! What you have highlighted here can be serious impediments to change–those engrained “things that worked for us”. And I don’t know if there is a person out there who has not clung to some aspect of what has worked for us in the past, myself included.

    Some of the best bits of the days gone by will prevail, but you are right, sometimes we have to tear it all down and start again. While this tends to involve a great deal of angst and effort in the beginning, starting anew rather than taping an aspirin to a model that is broken almost always leads to a better product in the end.

    Posted by Cale Birk (@birklearns) | December 16, 2010, 6:14 am
  2. Great idea, but these are age old habits. I know a lot of older teachers who would have a panic attack if you told them about this. Maybe that’s a good thing. I’m in.

    I’ve added a link to this post on my site.

    Posted by Sam Rangel | December 16, 2010, 6:34 am
  3. I completely agree with you and look forward to further updates about this. Keep up the good work!

    Posted by Michael G. | December 16, 2010, 7:52 am
  4. Given research points to fact that 11 – 19 year olds concentrate better in the afternoon and therefore do better (by a number of percentage points) in tests when they are taken in the afternoon compared to the morning -It is a “teenage” characteristic. Then the argument for changing the school day hours is very strong.

    A school in northern England doesn’t teach academic subjects in the morning, when learners are in they do sports etc in the morning. They have shown an improvement in success.

    Posted by Paul McKean | December 17, 2010, 4:10 am
  5. Thanks for this Jeff. I’ve been going through a similar soul-searching process in the past few years (http://www.edutopia.org/educational-reform-questions) and agree that there are many habits that seem to be pretty stubborn. I think that all of these are based on assumptions that we make that, in our mind, begin: If this is school, then must be true. So, if this is school, then there must be bells…homework…schedules…

    It is sometimes frightening to reverse statement to read: If there are bells, this must be school. This helps me to remember that schools are very habit-driven, universally recognizable and well-established institutions.

    If we can have more conversations like the one that you’re having here, then we might be able to successfully challenge our assumptions and our habits!


    Posted by Stephen Hurley | December 30, 2010, 11:54 am
  6. This is the second post that I have read of yours and your ideas are some powerful insights and the key to important educational reform. I’ve been thinking a lot about these ideas in my own teaching practices and would love to find ways to get them put on to my school’s faculty meeting agenda so that our school can start to really think about the nature of our current education system and how we can make changes that will make teaching and learning more meaningful. I’m excited to follow your blog and your ideas about how to improve education.

    Posted by Nicole Primeau | January 18, 2011, 8:48 am
  7. Good thought provoking blog. I feel that the fear of the unknown to “established” teachers is the root cause of our inability to move away from some of these educational habits. Baby steps seems to be the only thing that has worked for me. I would like to point out another view too. Over time, I have also discovered that we should be very careful how we judge our educational habits. It seems to me that we should embrace what we all know – our educational environments should be driving our teaching habits…..in other words, are we so unsuccessful that change is needed. I am the Principal in a small rural Kansas school. Many educational ideas we use can be considered “Old School”. However, many of our students come from families that also believe and live “old school” and it actually works for many. Motivating the student is a big factor. Old ideas or new ideas….if they are working to satisfaction keep riding that horse!

    Posted by wyabys | January 22, 2011, 5:32 am
  8. WYABYS – What you accept becomes your standard

    Posted by wyabys | January 22, 2011, 5:58 am


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Jeff Delp

Junior high principal by day, sports enthusiast, technology fanatic and jedi in my own mind. Striving to be a difference maker!
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