The role of change and culture in the professional growth of teachers

Janet Louise Seaman, Fordham University


Calls for changing the American schools have existed almost from the time the first school was formed. Innovations come and go in school systems. Yet, very little real change is accomplished especially in the classrooms where the most important business of the school is conducted. This study looked at various elements within a school's belief system and the teacher development process that either hindered or facilitated change. The study followed the implementation of a whole language program in a district's three elementary schools from its conception through its adoption which took 2 1/2 years. The study was an ethnographic study that used participant observation and frequent formal and informal interviews. The findings of the study were classified into three categories. The first teachers as learners examined the teachers' belief system, their willingness to participate in the whole language program, adults as learners, and adult developmental stages. The second category was the staff development program used for the implementation. Third was the role of the principal during the implementation. The study demonstrated that to make a change requiring a change in beliefs, the teachers needed time. Time was needed to learn about the innovation, to practice the strategies linked to the innovation, and to integrate the innovation into classroom practice. In addition, the teachers needed to be given a safe environment to learn about and practice the strategies, support so that they could take risks and make decisions, and support that made them feel capable of being a learner, a doer, a decision maker. No matter whether the change is initiated at the bottom or the top, once the district commits itself to the change, it is vital that all of the administrators, starting with the superintendent, give clear unequivocal support to the change. Although some change may take place if the principal is uninterested, little change will take place if the principal's support for the change is inconsistent. Changes in schools are more likely to happen when, as Sarason (1990) has said, schools become as much a place for teachers to learn as for the students.

Subject Area

School administration|Adult education|Continuing education

Recommended Citation

Seaman, Janet Louise, "The role of change and culture in the professional growth of teachers" (1994). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9511248.