Constructivist administration:
Will Vygotsky please report to the front office?
Administrators espouse constructivist ideals and expect them to be employed in the classroom.  The following text came out a desire to see these principles exercised by the adminstration as well.



The paradigm is surely changing in the teaching field.  One of the biggest surprises for me when I came to Texas was their system of teacher assessment in the classroom.  The focus was not on the teachers, but on the learners.  To me this implied that reform was far enough along that administrators could assess teacher practice from a more constructivist perspective.  If that was the case then one would expect to find constructivist administrators throughout districts across the country.

If administrators recognize that the best methods in the classroom are those in which questioning replaces lecture and student-centered projects replace pen and paper assessments, why do administrator practices more closely resemble the management style of the 1950s than the constructivist mode of teachers?  The teacher/student relationship is no longer top down, so why are administrators so often in this paradigm when the economy of the information age has antiquated it everywhere else.  If anything, the teaching profession should have been decades ahead of the curve, having had access to the work of Vygotsky, Dewey, and other seminal thinkers from the beginning.

The worst aspect of the pre-constructivist administrator paradigm is the refusal to bring involved parties in on decision-making processes.  Good administrators recognize that the only sure means to actualize reform is to obtain teacher buy-in.  Conversely, one sure way to kill any intended innovation is to actively exclude involved parties from the process of creation.  Past theories on the causes of failed reform movements routinely point to teacher resentment.  However, I suspect that failures have less to do with pure emotion and more to do with lack of intellectual involvement on the part of those responsible for operationalizing change.

When teachers are not brought to the table, they are not engaged.  In a classroom setting, this "sit and get" model is universally acknowledged as a sure-fire way to turn off kids brains.  The same happens when teachers a handed an agenda that fails to tap into their skills, interests, and talents.

Consider this, constructivism, by definition, involves the active process of the creation of knowledge, not a passive transmission.  This idea of "content delivery" is at best terribly inefficient and, at worst, a myth since learners must be involved in the interaction in order for learning to occur.  When reform movements are delivered top-down, the creative process has taken place entirely outside of the hands of teachers, away from those very individuals who are expected to carry the movement.

Another way to view this is that the absence of teachers from the "rooms of power" is actually a forced hooky from the classroom.  Conference rooms also serve as a type of classroom.  While administrators are working away on their plans for reform, they are busily making connections within the material they are working on.  Teachers are usually deprived of the opportunities to engage in this learning at the most critical time because they are not part of the power structure.

Of course, it will not be an easy transition for administrators to step back from the prow and to play a role as a navigator.  This parallels the shift constructivist teachers experience in approaching their learners.  New teachers often have problems shifting into a mode where learners are in charge of their own learning.  Teachers feel a loss of control until they see themselves as facilitators of a process, not commanders.  See, learning occurs naturally with guidance.  It cannot be imposed.

Unfortunately, it is entirely too easy to ignore what we know about learning and to fall back into the old paradigm of delivery.  The top-down approach seems efficient, but this is just an illusion.  Dictatorial governments are "efficient" in their own way as well; they deliver commands and the orders are executed.  But teaching is about the economy of ideas.  New and novel approaches must be devised from moment to moment in order to navigate the complex dynamics of group learning, in reaching a common understanding of each element of the curriculum with, say, thirty young minds with unique and sometimes disparate backgrounds.

Learning takes place in interaction for teachers just the same as it does for students.  When delivery is the only mode of communication, the interaction is unidirectional and minimal learning can occur.  By contrast, in a true dialogue between administrators and their teachers would lead to a meaningful exchange of ideas.  Competing ideas breed innovation.

For administrators there has been no new paradigm yet.  There is no "other" paradigm at all.  For all they know about learning, most administrators are geared to "efficiently" deliver orders.  How many times have teachers heard themselves saying, "I've given them all the pieces; I've laid it all out for them; I explained everything to them, but they still don't get it"?  So long as administrators keep their teachers by the sidelines, they remain poor facilitators of reform.  Delivery is not the answer, no matter how "efficient" a method it might seem, but so long as that is the dominant mode of operation, the notion of a "constructivist administration" will remain an oxymoron.


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