We, on the curriculum writing committee, have likewise experienced similar feelings during the course of numerous meetings held over the past three and a half years. We have also continuously asked ourselves some very tough and perplexing questions, to which we did not always have sufficient answers. Breaking away from former curricula formats and accepting a novel perspective, leaving behind familiar territory and venturing towards the unknown was and is often very disturbing. Yet I believe that our feelings of doubt, and sometimes even despair, have largely been replaced by a sense of achievement and satisfaction and a feeling that yes, we can do it--there may still be some obstacles ahead but we can already see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Change can be perceived in different ways: a rather simplistic view relates to change in terms of the object of change, i.e. the new curriculum, the new technique or textbook. Innovation, according to this approach, is perceived as being confined to a restricted time span. Such a limited perspective, however, deliberates on neither the need for change nor on the factors which may interact with the intended innovation, and consequently can not anticipate nor account for all the intricacies and difficulties involved in implementing change.
Contrary to the formerly described approach, current literature on educational change describes it as a process rather than as a one-time event: The introduction of the new curriculum on a set date, for instance, cannot be referred to as THE change or innovation affecting the English teaching community, but rather as the process which occurred prior to and subsequent to the event. Thus, Hargeaves (1994) describes change as a phenomenon which includes “the practices and procedures, the rules and relationships, the sociological and psychological mechanism” of the involved parties which will “shape the destiny of any change, whatever its content”, and will “lead it to prosper or falter.” (p. 9). Hence, change is perceived from a broad perspective which relates to the pertinent behavioral transformation required of the participants involved, in order to accommodate themselves to the proposed innovation. Consequently change entails a slow process of immense complexity, one which engages the participants’ emotions as well as their intellect, and which questions norms and modes of behavior of individuals and the organizations within which they operate.
On the bottom-up level, schools may have put forth a plea to implement an innovative approach to language teaching congruent with the approach utilized for teaching other school subjects. Moves initiated by bottom up stakeholders towards changing the English curriculum may also include efforts by parents who regard mastery of the English language crucial for purposes of social mobility, and may thus push for early exposure. Students may have also argued that the present standards of the matriculation are unsuitable for their future needs. And, of course, teachers may have felt the need for change and innovation due to an apparent lack of compatibility between teaching programs and/or materials, students’ needs and classroom realities, or discontentment with methods imposed on the system for a variety of reasons.
The impetus for change can often be located in a number of sites simultaneously, for seldom do any of the above described initiatives operate in isolation. Such, I believe, was the case in the resolution to introduce a new curriculum for the teaching of English in Israel, whereby forces at different levels contributed to the decision-making process. Interaction between top-down and bottom-up forces in the implementation of innovation has in fact been found to be one of the factors which contributes to the potential success of the change process. ( Hargreave, 1994)
Curricular innovation cannot therefore be launched without consideration of the local context, especially the prevailing practices, beliefs and expectations of the English teachers, the agents of change. This assumption is certainly reflected in the approach followed by EFL professionals in Israel who are engaged in the implementation of the new curriculum in both pre- and in-service frameworks. It is also in accord with current research findings as to the paramount significance of teachers’ Background, Assumptions and Knowledge (BAK) in the teaching process. (Woods, 1996). Following such an approach implies allocating time for sessions in which individuals describe personal influential background factors and share and discuss their beliefs and assumptions. These personal “teachers’ stories” will in turn be associated with, and critically compared and contrasted with, the newly introduced notions, thus creating a meaningful learning experience for the parties involved.
Innovation is disruptive for it poses a threat to key meanings, relationships, our status and view of ourselves, our habits and routines. (Everard and Morris, 1990). This may result in feelings of bereavement over loss of the familiar and known which is left behind to start anew. In terms of the Standards Curriculum, feelings of loss and helplessness may occur in a number of instances. Consider the veteran English teacher, proficient in and accustomed to the teaching of grammar structures in the progression spelled out in the 1988 English curriculum. Sudden change of both the conceptualization of grammar teaching and the lack of dictated sequencing are bound to cause uncertainty, as are new unfamiliar terms such as “standards” and “benchmarks”. The approach is domain rather than skill-oriented, and requires knowledge in the assessment arena. Areas of expertise not explicitly mentioned in the previous document, such as appreciation of language and culture, need to be mastered. Emphasis is placed on teacher autonomy, on independent planning and decision-making for many of the components are not specified and left to the teacher’s discretion. Such freedom is liberating yet intimidating. Former feelings of confidence, positive self-image and esteem may now be endangered as part of the change. Hence individual or group resistance is often a natural reaction to the change proposed.
Resistance may take different forms. It may be expressed by total passivity on the part of the teacher, relying on the inertia of other parties, presupposing that the innovative spirit will disappear soon enough, as it has often times before. Another common resistance strategy is accentuating the negative, emphasizing the impracticality of the new curriculum and its adverse repercussions. The teacher may also question the very legitimacy of the change, arguing in favor of the previous curriculum and state of affairs and against the proposed futile disruption of the system.
Finally, since the management of innovation is so very disruptive and convoluted, teachers must be provided with ample time to comprehend, discuss, doubt, question, and express anxiety and frustration. Such a process will hopefully be accompanied by an integration of the essence of the document with the personal background, assumptions and knowledge of each one of the teachers, thus creating a sense of ownership--making the change their own.
Ofra Inbar is a member of the writing committee of the new Standards for Pupils of English Curriculum for Israeli schools. She is a lecturer in the English Department at Bet Berl College and in the School of Education at Tel-Aviv University.firstname.lastname@example.org