Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Change, You and Me

Through the past four weeks as I have been engaged in focused research on changing perceptions of the Bible and biblical doctrines in the heartland of Islam, I have observed the ebb and flow of what will probably be seen as historic change in this time-worn region of civilization. This is not an attempt to speak about the outcomes of the “Arab Spring.” While Syria continues to bleed, Tunisian government continues to morph, Iraq continues to simmer, and the Egyptian Brotherhood continues to seek to find its way towards governing this complex country, any assessment is premature and truly a prophetic utterance. As Garrison Keillor said in his years old Prairie Home companion skit, I saw snow on July 4th, “I’m not a prophet. So, I kept my mouth shut.” So, this is just some anecdotal observations from taxi drivers and guys on the edge of demonstrations and other ordinary folks in the midst of change.

King Abdullah II of Jordan’s motorcade sedately passed us as my taxi driver, Rajah, and I discussed the turmoil of the region. I put the event in the context of other heads of state passing near me since 9/11. Three suvs traveling just faster than the 60 kph traffic. No sirens, exposed guns, no helicopters overhead. Just a king among his people going to the airport. I know we are talking apples and oranges here, but this was a different take on how to move the head of state. So, we moved to talking about this young King and his pronouncements. He has said, I was not prepared for the task of being King. I have and will make changes to reduce the power of the office. My son will have a much different job from mine. The parliament and prime minister need to have a greater share in leadership. So, he rolls along absorbing the changes of the day. In our general conversation, my friend says he and his country men are not ready for “American style” democracy. They need to grow to face the responsibilities of true freedom. It seems to me that their young king is leading well.

One of my interviewees, Dr. Kamal, leads an institute founded by the Crown Prince of Jordan to enhance understanding between the world’s peoples and cultures. My friend, like Arabs in general is cordial and gracious to any stranger or guest. He is an Orthodox Christian trained in the USA with a PhD in political science. He loves Americans but is concerned that we have lost sight of our “north star.” He thinks we need to return to our values which he characterized as respect for the dignity and equality of all persons. Concerning our governmental and institutional response to Arabs and Islam, Kamal sees a historic shift in Western treatment of persons due to stereotypic thinking because of the actions of a few. Although a Christian, he like many sees American branding of one as dangerous and a condemnation of both. Like many in the world, Kamal gives the West, its media and political institutions, more credit than warranted. But, his point that shaping a future based on the pains of the recent past can result in a deadly spiral into reaction-ism. He asked, “Is the plight of Palestinians under the state of Israel different from pre-holocaust Jews in Europe?” He is asking for balance, the West appeared to have assuaged the guilt for ignoring the plight of European Jewry in creating the nation of Israel. Should we not care for the plight of Arab families as well as Jewish families in the current conflict? Kamal pointed to me and said, “You, American protestants need to recover your identity and values. I love all people, Jews and Arabs, he said. If your behavior causes people to question your love for everyone, you need to examine why you and or your government is acting that way. Is it media bias? Is it rude hatred? What is causing that behavior? You need to restore your values.” In this Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the longest armed conflict in our world there is little change. The political solutions presented by Thomas Freidman at the close of his 1989 From Beirut to Jerusalem are still viable; but, the will of the leaders and the peoples to change expectations so they can reached their stated desired co-existance and possibly “peace” cannot be granted by Washington.

Change is hard. I guess that is the bottom line of my musings from Cairo- which isn’t sure whether it is Spring or Winter (politically speaking) -on this last day of a mild-weathered February. I have pulled together two sources in thinking about change.
The following is a compilation drawn from two sources

[Regular font portion is by Maryellen Weimer. Reference: Henderson, C., Beach, A., and Finkelstein, N. (2011). Facilitating change in undergraduate STEM instructional practices: An analytic review of the literature. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48 (8), 984-952. Simply replace [we] or [I] for teacher in the text. The Italic font portion is my summary of Price Pritchett & Ron Pound ”A survival Guide to the Stress of Organizational Change.”]

I'm working my way through a 33-page review of scholarship on instructional change in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines. The authors reviewed an impressive 191 conceptual and empirical journal articles. However, what they found isn't impressive both in terms of the quality of the scholarship on this topic and in terms of instructional change in general.

It's not the first article I've read of late on the various barriers that stand in the way of change in higher education. The literature is not encouraging, but I think there are some fairly straightforward principles that give any new teaching strategy, technique or approach a much greater chance of success. Out of that success will grow the courage and motivation to implement even more instructional changes.
1. Think about what needs to change before deciding on a change — I regularly lead workshops on campuses across the country and often worry that there are carts being placed before unseen horses. When I'm asked to present, I'm usually counseled that faculty attending will want techniques, new ideas, strategies that work, and pragmatic things they can do in the classroom. But that's not where the change process should begin. It should start with a question, 'What am I doing that isn't promoting learning or very much learning?' Or, 'What am I doing that I've probably done the same way for too long?' Once you see the horse, you can better pick out a cart to put behind it.
2. Lay the groundwork for the change — I regularly object to the "just do it" approach to instructional change, as if we all work in a Nike commercial. The motivation is admirable but every instructional situation is unique. Teachers are different, students are different and we don't all teach the same content in the same kind of courses. Whatever a teacher does must be adapted so that it fits the peculiarities of the given instructional situation. Don't just do it before having given careful thought to how the change will work with your content and students, and when you use it.

Three Key Drivers of Change: People: Human populations continues to grow, augmented by migration and immigration, this insures that every human community and institution is changing. Technology: New means of communication on smaller and faster smart phones and tablets along with continued improvement in computer speed and increased volume of global traffic on the internet makes this world a village wired for change. People: Global information continues to double at faster and faster rates making this age of information a world of change in itself.

3. Incorporate change systematically — Beyond adapting the change, teachers need to prepare for its implementation. This means considering when (or if) it fits with the content, what skills it requires and whether students have those skills. If they don't, how could those skills be developed? It also means valuing the change process by giving it your full and focused attention so as to ensure the new approach has the best possible chance of succeeding.
4. Change a little before changing a lot — Too often faculty have "conversion experiences" about themselves as teachers. They go to a conference or read a book, get convinced that they could be doing so much better and decide to change all sorts of things at once. They envision a whole new course taught by an entirely different teacher. Unfortunately, that much change is often hard on students and equally difficult for teachers to sustain.

Three thoughts on responding to the need to change: The danger of doing what comes naturally: Change is a stressor which leads to biologically defense mechanisms (fight or flight) kicking in. Neither of which helps us. Systemic change calls for surrender and reassessment of our role and direction. The Jesus way: (the authors describe this as The Zen way. I have a better Way than just absorbing the enemy.) To victoriously face life and its changes consistently requires the recognition that the God of creation loves you and regardless of supposed success or failure He will not leave you. He has come in Jesus to be your shepherd and you have accepted His ownership. This is the difference between breakthrough and breakdown in the face of change. Playing the hand that Life deals us: We need to toughen up. Coach Sean Payton says, “Just do your job!” Sam Parker ( advises us to quit feeling like victims in pitiable employment. “Maybe we acknowledge that we're not entitled to everything being perfectly wonderful at all times.” (The authors then flesh out 15 mistakes in facing change which round out their workshop. You can get the booklet from Amazon.)

5. Determine in advance how you will know whether the change is a success — It's too bad that assessment has come to carry so much negative baggage, because when it's about a teacher trying something new and wanting to know if it works, assessment provides much needed of objectivity. If you determine beforehand what success is going to look like, then you are much less likely to be blinded by how much everybody liked it. In this giant review of the change literature I mentioned earlier, only 21% of the articles contained "strong evidence to support claims of success or failure."
6. Have realistic expectations for success — No matter how innovative, creative and wonderful the new idea may be, it isn't going to be perfect and it isn't going to be the best learning experience possible for every student or the pinnacle of your teaching career. Everything we do in class has mixed results; any new approach will work really well for some students, in some classes, on some days. Know that going in, remind yourself regularly, and don't let it discourage you from continuing to make positive changes.

So, in my thinking, borrowed from C.S. Lewis for change to be progress we must manage the forces so that the resultant path aligns us with the One who is the truth, life and way-Jesus.

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