Why it is important to consider both the positives and negatives of educational change
Recently I’ve posted about why negative labelling and stereotyping of teachers who don’t adopt technology won’t help achieve change. In this post I’ll be sharing my thoughts on another behaviour that I believe inhibits widespread educational change – only focussing on the positives.
It’s naive to think that any educational change doesn’t have drawbacks of some sort. While the drawbacks won’t necessarily be a reason not to encourage change, they should always be taken into consideration and made transparent. However, in an effort to ‘sell’ a new tool, technology or teaching approach, many change advocates focus only on the upsides. As a result, they tend to paint a very rosy, idealistic picture of what life using that particular tool/technology/approach will look like and the benefits it will have. I feel this behaviour is particularly prevalent amongst innovators and early adopters of educational technologies. While it is extremely common to hear them speak of the transformative potential of technology for teaching and learning, it is uncommon to hear them discuss the possible negative implications we need to consider and address.
While this may appeal to those who are already enthusiastic about the particular technology or cause being promoted, it is unlikely to succeed in promoting change amongst those who do not share the same level of enthusiasm.
Why doesn’t a benefits-only approach work?
First, a benefits-only approach creates unrealistic expectations. It suggests to educators that they’ll quickly and easily see widespread improvements with no disadvantages, challenges or implications. Thus, if educators do give the said solution a go and encounter problems or don’t immediately experience all the claimed benefits, they’ll likely be disappointed. This can quickly turn into dissatisfaction with the tool/technology/approach and a reluctance to try it out again. Worse, it can result in the educator losing confidence in themselves as they struggle to understand why they were not successful when others said it was so easy. Once again, this can be enough to put them off giving something new a go.Talking only about the benefits of educational change fuels unrealistic expectations and suspicion Click To Tweet
Second, focussing only on the positives can (and rightly should!) create suspicion in some people. A discussion solely about the benefits or reasons why someone should do or use something is likely to leave them with unanswered, nagging questions like ‘what aren’t they telling me?’, ‘what’s in it for them?’ and ‘what impact is this going to have on my X/Y/Z learners?’. If these nagging suspicions are strong enough, they’ll likely stop an individual taking action and fuel a wider distrust of the change you’re trying to encourage.
Third, sometimes the possible drawbacks of a change are the very reasons why it’s difficult to reach those who seem reluctant. While people’s hesitations may often appear unjustified, they may actually be an indication of a valid challenge or drawback you’ve not considered. If these are not identified and taken seriously, they can’t be overcome, solved or adjusted for. As well as jeopardising the extent of change adoption, they could also result in unforeseen detrimental effects for your colleagues and students.
Being honest and upfront about both the benefits and drawbacks of the tool, technology or approach you’re advocating for is the best way to foster realistic expectations, build trust and identify and overcome any potential negative implications. Once again, while downsides are not necessarily a reason to avoid educational change, we don’t do our students or ourselves any favours by ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist.
In order to take a more balanced approach to discussing educational change, those leading and advocating it need to ensure they fully understand the positives and negatives. It’s human nature for us to seek out information and opinions that validate our own views. We’re much less likely to seek out that which challenges our ways of thinking. But this is precisely what we need to continue doing (or for some, start doing) if we want to achieve widespread change.Successful educational change requires consideration of both the benefits and the drawbacks Click To Tweet
So, the next time you’re advocating for a new tool, technology or approach, I challenge you to research and consider both the benefits and drawbacks before painting any pictures of the future changed-state. Instead of avoiding people and publications that are taking a critical stance, engage with them and see what happens. I’m not suggesting you’ll change your views, but you might get an insight into the potential problems or implications that you’ll need to overcome or compensate for. Your colleagues who are uncertain about the change will also appreciate your balanced viewpoint, giving you a much better chance of successfully encouraging them to partake in the change journey.