A Paradigm Shift

As the significant change processes underway in public sector education in Florida move forward, you may hear talk about “the shift”.  This arises from works in progress to support the public education workforce and stakeholders in understanding the direction and nature of a necessary but complex change process.

We are in the midst of a paradigm shift on what public education should accomplish and how it should be accomplished.  A paradigm is a set of basic assumptions about what is true. They form a mental model that guides our thinking and actions.  From time to time in many areas of endeavor, new knowledge and deepening understandings shift what we “know to be true” – and consequently there are necessary shifts in implementing behaviors and systemic supports.

A new paradigm is emerging nationally that includes these key elements:

  1. There is a cause and effect relationship between the quality of student learning and the quality of the practices of teachers and school leaders (thus – educator quality rather than parent and community traits are the primary explanation for student growth rates).
  2. There is a body of subject matter knowledge and content related skills that, when mastered by students, will make them competitive in a global economy (thus – Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Sunshine State Standards).
  3. Contemporary research on instructional and leadership strategies reveals a core repertoire of practices that, done correctly and in appropriate circumstances, improves the probability of student success (thus – new Florida Educator Accomplished Practices, Florida Principal Leadership Standards, and evaluation systems).
  4. Student learning (and the professional development of educators) keeps pace with the evolving needs of our culture only when learning is supported by collegial and team learning processes based on problem-solving, active rather than passive engagement by learners, and use of emerging technologies to interact with both other learners and the global escalation in the body of human knowledge (thus – redevelopment of professional learning systems and supports).
  5. Timely data, effectively analyzed, can deepen our understanding of what students (and educators) need to do to improve their learning (thus -expanding assessments, progress tracking, and feedback capacities in development).

This paradigm shift, increasingly evident in business, government, and education institutions, led to a new vision that Florida will have an efficient world-class education system that engages and prepares all students to be globally competitive for college and careers.

These and other related aspects of the paradigm shift are based on both broad experience with what public education systems have  produced to date and emerging research that has added new understanding to what is needed, what works, and how quality outcomes are being obtained.  When a paradigm of what education can and should accomplish is based on these kinds of beliefs, a systemic change is needed to “shift” what we do and how we do our work.

It is not just the words in a vision statement that change. Changes (shifts) are needed in how organizations (from the state, district, school, and classroom levels) focus resources, align practices with knowledge on what works, and adjust how works-in-progress align to a new vision for Florida’s students.

There is a substantial core of Florida educators who share the emerging paradigm and are enthusiastic about the new directions in Florida’s public education system.  They are working hard to implement new quality processes with fidelity. However, the rate and effectiveness of the change process is vulnerable to confusion and apprehension on two fronts:

  1. Those who do not share the beliefs inherent in this paradigm shift will be blind to why changes are needed…and be unable to believe that making changes will lead to desired improvements.
  2. Those who do “get it” can still be overwhelmed by the fast pace and wide scope of changes underway.  Changes are underway to align many system elements to a new vision. For example:
  • New personnel evaluation systems with contemporary research on effective practices embedded in personnel evaluation systems
  • Use of student results as a major element in evaluation
  • Move to the Common Core and a shift in what standards-based instruction means
  • Pending major redevelopment of professional development systems
  • Shifting school leaders priorities toward instructional  leadership
  • Expanding collegial learning processes for faculty development
  • Increased focus on fidelity of implementation of many existing initiatives (e.g. Reading. MTSS,  ELL, ESE)
  • Restructure of individual professional development processes to focus on research based practices that work and collegial learning processes

A shift is definitely underway!  With so many changes in progress and more coming soon (and many of them presented as priorities) working with your faculty and your colleagues to maintain some balance and perspective will help the change process.  Help your faculty and professional colleagues recognize the connection between what is changing and the long term shared vision that Florida will have an efficient world-class education system that engages and prepares all students to be globally competitive for college and careers.

In isolation, each change effort can be recognized as part of the systemic change leading to college and career ready students. “Connecting the dots”  is necessary to build a ”big picture”  awareness that all of the changes underway are just different aspects of moving toward  that end result – college and career ready students.  This is an important leadership communications function.  It is a necessary perspective that can help all educators manage the pressures and challenges of a major systemic change process with “shifts” happening on many fronts.

~John Moore, FLDOE

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2 thoughts on “A Paradigm Shift

  1. Scott Head says:

    John,
    As a middle school teacher in Brevard County, I am struggling with the common ideology associated with the education paradigm change. I have created a view of change within my classroom that can be easily understood as a change from teacher-centered to that of student-centered. I have done extemsive research to change my pedagogy and student understanding for their job within the classroom as being more assertive for what and how they learn. But, if the other teachers are not as understanding with this view of education my efforts are met with distain and even anger.
    How does an individual teacher change the paradigm without having a total school buy in?

    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Scott J. Head

    • Effective system changes are done by the collective effort of the individual practitioners. However, systemic changes typically take several years to development. Some parts of the system get there sooner than others.

      As a classroom teacher, some aspects of the desired shifts are within your control. Doing what you can to create a student centered learning environment focused on standards-based instruction will benefit your students. Sharing your successes with your colleagues (how what you do benefits the students) can help others to take the risks and make changes as well. ‘Distain” can turn to envy if your kids tests scores are the ones rising. While a collegial environment is to be desired, your kids deserve the best you can do regardless of what your colleagues are doing.

      Some aspects of the shift rest with school and district level leadership and the speed and scope of change depends on what folks in those jobs do. Those moving to higher standards for the kids sooner than others will always feel some frustration at how long it seems to take others to do the right thing. You can take some pride that your students are getting what they need from you – even while they wait for others to catch up.

      Dr. John Moore

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