Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Education Reform and the Role of Administrators in Mediating Teacher Stress

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Education Reform and the Role of Administrators in Mediating Teacher Stress

Article excerpt

Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold

--William Butler Yeats' "The Second Coming," 1922


School change is inevitable. As a human institution, schools are in a constant state of transformation (Hinde, 2003), and individual teachers adapt or provide the impetus for that transformation all the time (Richardson & Placier, 2001). The question, then, is not whether there will be change, but what change there will be--a question complicated by the fact that change means different things to different people (Evans, 1996).

For example, when it comes to school reforms, a policymaker may view a particular change as progressive and teachers refusing to change as recalcitrant. But to teachers in a particular school building, hundreds of miles from that policymaker, the proposed change may seem dictatorial or draconian and in conflict with their long-held progressive student-centered ideals. This perceived conflict could arise because the reform is indeed incompatible with the reality of their teaching context, or it could be because they have not had the same amount of time as the reformer to integrate the proposed change into their philosophy: it just happened to them. When experienced, change comes with such social and psychological implications that it is sometimes hard to tell who is being innovative and who is being resistant (Marris, 1986). This tension arises partially because "change alone is not innovation" (Lubienski, 2003, p. 403), and educational policymakers, administrators, and teachers may view a particular initiative quite differently.

For teachers, specifically, negative perceptions of change manifest themselves in very real ways. Kyriacou (2001) reports the negative impact of change upon teacher stress and consequential resiliency. However, as Evans (1996) explains, the human feelings that teachers often experience during education reforms--loss, anxiety, ambivalence, and resistance--have historically either been ignored or belittled. And while administrators can serve as mediators of change-related stress (Lumsden, 1998; Calabrese, 1987; Pahnos, 1990; Brown & Nagel, 2004), a study of teachers in rural Washington reported that one of their most prevalent stress factors was lack of support by administrators, second only to time management issues (Keiper & Busselle, 1996). Recent studies of teachers in North Carolina and South Carolina by the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality (2005a, 2005b) found that teacher attrition was directly related to perceptions of lack of administrative support and to significant divides between how teachers and principals viewed working conditions in schools.

The tensions between innovation-status quo and teacher-administrator perceptions within a school-change effort form the basis for this study. Through phenomenological inquiry focused on teacher and administrator meaning-making, this study explored the inherent complications of change. Further, this study responded to the call for empirical research on the relationships between teacher learning and school restructuring (Ancess, 2000) and the interface between teacher and school change (Richardson & Placier, 2001). To better understand how teachers experience changing educational policies, the goal here was to document and interpret teachers' "lived experience" via phenomenological inquiry--What is it like to teach amidst educational change? This article examines educator perceptions of change, the way in which they integrated the prescribed changes, and the role of administrators in mediating the attendant stressors, thus impacting the efficacy of the proposed reform.

Teachers' Resistance to Change

Historically, teachers have resisted the implementation of change in proportion to the amount of change required (Gusky, 1995). Some analysts of school reforms have claimed that reformers often "underestimate the impact of the workplace and prior constraints upon teachers and overestimate the power of their innovation to alter teaching and learning" (Cuban, 1993). …

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