Orchestrating Simultaneous Renewal

By Theobald, Paul; Rochon, Ronald | Phi Delta Kappan, April 1999 | Go to article overview

Orchestrating Simultaneous Renewal


Theobald, Paul, Rochon, Ronald, Phi Delta Kappan


From their own experience, the authors share with readers the most predictable and formidable obstacles to the simultaneous renewal of schools and teacher education. They also suggest practices to follow that can lead away from the obstacles and toward the goal.

WHEN society turns its attention to improving public schools, it usually focuses on school practice and ignores teacher education. Sometimes, however, just the reverse happens, and the focus is on teacher education, while school practice is ignored. The premise of "simultaneous renewal" is that the best chances of success are created when work to improve both schools and teacher education is undertaken simultaneously.1 It's a simple idea, and the logic undergirding it is difficult to dispute. But making it happen is another story altogether.

Throughout this century, both schools and teacher education programs have built up considerable inertia. Changing one institution in a substantive way is a tall order. Changing both at the same time can sometimes seem impossible. It's not, of course, but it is difficult, and leadership is crucial. We hope that sharing our experience as leaders in this endeavor might prove helpful to readers, first by alerting them to the most predictable and formidable obstacles to simultaneous renewal and then by suggesting a path of practices to follow that can lead away from the obstacles and toward the goal.

Heading Roughly West

One would think that an individual who decides to step up and lead a simultaneous renewal effort could begin by asking teachers, school administrators, and university professors to rally round the idea of "improving" teacher education and K-12 schooling. Such a goal seems innocuous enough. Who could argue with an effort to improve? It turns out, though, that there are two problems with this goal, both of them serious enough to threaten simultaneous renewal before it even starts.

The first problem is that some teacher education programs and some schools come to be dominated, ideologically at least, by individuals who are convinced that their school or their teacher education program has already achieved perfection. Admittedly, this kind of thinking is a little shallow, but most people would be surprised at how often it occurs. When this sentiment dominates a teacher education program, professors are wary of sending their students out into schools where they might be corrupted by inferior practices. When it dominates a school, teachers and administrators don't want college students, or professors for that matter, around to mess up their good work with the youngsters. And, of course, when you're the best game in town, change can only mean movement in the wrong direction. Hence resistance is powerful.

The second problem stems from the very vagueness that makes the call to "improve" an attractive leadership strategy. That is, improving schools and teacher education programs will mean different things to different people. While such a call can create activity, much of it will be at cross purposes and in multiple directions. As many scholars of leadership theory have suggested, the goal of leadership is to get all the players headed in roughly the same direction. Simply asking for a commitment to improve is a little like asking professionals to pull together "for the sake of the kids." The commitment is not going to accomplish the goal, because the goal remains very loosely defined.

How do such goals come into focus? What has to happen? The answer to these questions is that something difficult, but nevertheless necessary, has to happen. Some kind of call is needed that will 1) cause those who feel they are perfect to try something new and 2) cause those who disagree on any or all matters of professional practice to strike up a consensually derived compromise in order to maximize curricular and instructional coherence.

For lack of a better term, we're going to suggest that the "big picture" has to be brought into focus. …

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