There are Mandates and, then, There are Mandates

There has been a large amount of discussion surrounding ways to implement change in education, and the question of whether mandates work comes up about as often as the frequency of mandates passed down. I believe conflicts begin when authorities mandate procedures instead of outcome goals. Change as a process, and the imprecision of the sequence of activities required to make sustained, positive change  are both key factors when considering how to implement change. For skilled, reflective teaching professionals, resistance converts to productive dialogue when mandates are limited to outcomes. Dominating mandates that dictate teacher flexibility work for teaching technicians who find more confidence in prepared programs than the professionals who understand and apply researched, peer-reviewed, and accepted educational teaching concepts. Peter Senge (1990), who wrote The Fifth Discipline seeks to replicate this higher standard of professionalism in education. The resulting behavior of teaching professionals who seek “personal mastery” plays out as negative resistance whenever mandates are questioned. Comprehensive process-type mandates clearly stifle teacher professionalism. Hall and Hord (2011) open their text, Implementing Change: Patterns, Principles, and Potholes with their Change Principle 9 and say that Mandates Can Work, which they solidify by saying that the principle holds true for all cases. In their view there is no room for debate, only discussion about how the mandate will be fulfilled. This means to me that, in their text, they are addressing technicians in education, and not professionals, even though they promote Senge’s work as an ideal that is rarely achieved.

One up side to teacher resistance to mandates, as another graduate student described to me, is that it fosters reflection on aspects of change on a personal level. I agree, but I would add, with emphasis, that the personal reflections made by a highly professional teacher have a direct impact on classroom instruction, whereas the reflections of an instructional technician, as I described above, are not nearly as significant to instruction. Strict, comprehensive mandates promote technicians, not teaching professionals. Teaching professionals have an obligation, therefore, to resists effectively, not negatively,  in order to remain professional and to promote a professional practice in education.

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