Whether it’s Mastery Learning, open schedules, maker-spaces, or problem-based learning, innovative instructional methods and educational initiatives tend to work amazingly well in some cases, but fall flat in others. Regardless of the initiative we’re talking about, there is most likely robust research to back up its effectiveness and legitimacy.
So why do they fail?
Working with teachers, schools, and districts all over, we have found 3 primary reasons initiatives or innovative methods fail.
1. Lack of Support:
Regardless of the instructional change being implemented, the simple idea that a single day of training or workshop can transform a school or classroom is ignorant at best. For many teachers, this simply isn’t enough. For some teachers, training can absolutely be enough and they will just take it and run. Most of us however, need more than that.
One of the primary reasons innovations in the classroom fail is that there is lack of follow up support. This support can come from administrators, vendors, trainers, experts, or even colleagues. But if it is absent, it becomes very easy to regress when faced with problems or difficulties.
When considering implementing new ideas or innovative practices in your classroom, make sure that there is enough follow up, support, and resources available to fully commit and overcome obstacles that may arise. Changing instruction is never easy, it will never be perfect the first time. If support doesn’t exist to account for this imperfection, than it is doomed to fail before it begins.
2. Lack of Staff Commitment:
Regardless of size or ability, your staff needs to commit to change or innovation for it to occur. The top down model of “do this because we said so” doesn’t work. If there is no commitment to a concept, then it is sure to quickly be tossed aside at the first sign of difficulty or trouble.
As I stated about support, when something goes wrong or isn’t going “perfectly” it is commitment that enables a teacher to plow through and find solutions, instead of regressing to less effective tendencies. It is integral with any initiative that a slow roll out and pilot (voluntary if possible) group is utilized. This allows for school or classroom-specific modifications to be identified, and increases buy-in.
Furthermore, when scale-up occurs, you will have examples that can be utilized within the same demographic, socioeconomic, and school culture as the later adopters of the initiative. This can be a great benefit when questions like: “will this work with my students, or with our circumstances?” come up.
3. Disconnect Between Innovation and Outdated Systems:
The last, but certainly not the least, reason initiatives fail in schools is that the idea or concept does not “gel” with the outdated systems, structure or educational framework that exists within the school.
For example: If you are implementing an innovative approach to mastery or personalized learning, but you are unwilling to consider changing the structure of assessment and grading to be more knowledge or standards based, there will be a severe disconnect.
Trying to assess mastery within the structure of a 100-point scale or grading system becomes a difficult challenge and will create a lot of issues and un-needed questions. On the other hand, if you are committed and have the proper support to include grading initiatives and changes that are recommended and aligned with the mastery based model, it is much more likely to be successful.
The same would apply if you are a school that wants to focus on cross-curricular PBL’s but is unwilling to change the bell schedule or possibly get rid of it altogether.
The simple fact is that many innovative educational initiatives (that work) require a massive re-examination of the broken system we currently have in place. That is inherently why they are “innovative.” Without the courage to disrupt the broken system, innovation itself cannot succeed.
As more innovations occur in the educational space, we will be faced with a large pendulum swing within the next 5 – 10 years (if not sooner) that requires us to be ok with changing what has been in place for 100+ years.
The world we are preparing students for is rapidly changing, and the model of education that was developed to create factory workers is showing it’s age more than ever. To impart change we do not only need to be innovative; we must also be brave enough to challenge what we have known to be education.
It must look, feel, and be experienced differently than ever before, if we want our students to be successful. Without support structures, commitment from educators, and the willingness to disrupt the norm for the betterment of all students, new and innovative educational initiatives are likely to become yet another failed effort to improve student success.
We, as teachers, administrators, and those committed to reaching all students, simply cannot be ok with this continued path to failure. So I challenge you to re-examine everything, and to be be brave enough to make all the necessary changes, the next time you find an educational initiative you believe in.