Structure

EiffelWhat do I mean by structure. Structure means any constraint on the way things are done, any pattern that we need to follow, any set of regulations that we need to observe. Examples might include the format of the IB Diploma Programme, the method of evaluation of teachers, the number of periods in a school day, the size and shape of the classrooms or the speed of the internet connection.

The point about structures is that the ones in which we operate act as inhibitors to change. However much we agree the values, supported by the evidence of the students, we cannot change if we are forced into the same structures. How often have we heard teachers say that they would love to teach in a more investigative, open ended, discovery based way, but they have a syllabus to get through and an exam at the end? I would love to take my kids out of school on some wonderful visits but a lesson only lasts 60 minutes and it cannot be done. Internet research is great for my subject but the wireless speed means we cannot all get on at once.

It is more subtle than that. In many cases the structures that we operate in are so engrained that we do not notice them. Lessons should follow a particular pattern. Students need to know what the aims of a task are. teachers should clearly define learning outcomes. Testing must be done at particular stages. A syllabus must be followed. These can actually prevent people from seeing the possibilities of changing, and so they will justify the status quo on other grounds.

So structures can be both extrinsic (eg length of a lesson) and intrinsic (eg belief in the format of a “good” lesson) barriers to change. But, the flip side of this coin is immensely powerful. If we change the structures then change must follow.

If you fill the same container the contents will always assume the same shape.round fill

Have you ever tried to make circular ice cubes using a square ice cube tray? This is analogy, so please bear with it despite the unreality! I would expect one of two reactions to the suggestion to try to make the round ones. Either you would say that you are happy with the square ones, so there is no point in trying, or you might see the advantage of the round ones but just not be able to make them. Would it help if I set you a target of making round  cubessquare fill

If you ask someone to fill the same shape they will always fill it in the same way, however much they want to do it differently. If you change the shape of the box, they are forced to change the way they do things, however much they would like to carry on doing the same.

The examples of changes I have been involved in all demonstrate how a change in structure has enabled change and promoted change.

If there is a key point in this discourse, then this is it!

Knowing the audience