Many primary schools throughout New Zealand are espousing a shift to Innovative Learning Environments (ILE). ILE refers to the multifaceted and interrelated aspects of teaching and learning in a school; the pedagogy, organisation, teachers, learners, content, resources, community…basically, the whole shebang. An OECD (2013) report defined ILE a lot more eloquently as, “an organic, holistic concept — an ecosystem that functions over time and in context and includes the activity and outcomes of learning”.
The shift to ILE will require many primary teachers to make significant changes to their practice, and with any change, there exists risk. But what are the risks involved with a shift to ILE? And is it worth considering that teachers’ perceptions of risk may be a fundamental barrier to change? If the onus is on the classroom teacher to integrate digital technologies in learner-centric pedagogies, and collaborate with colleagues in flexible learning spaces, I would argue it just might be worth bearing in mind.
Acknowledging Risk (not resistance!)
The term risk has been used many ways and in various contexts for many years. In the corporate world the term ‘risk’ is commonplace; risk management, capital risk and systematic risk all focus on the identification, assessment and prioritisation of commercial risk. In the education sector the concept of risk is only beginning to be acknowledged when discussing innovation and change. But what does ‘risk’ really mean? Is risk real?
A broad definition of risk usually includes loss, significance of loss and uncertainties. On a philosophical level, some would argue risk is dependent on accessible knowledge so should be granted an epistemological status. Whilst others may hold an ontological view that risk exists whether it is perceived or not, and is therefore a reality of the world. In the words of Eugene Rosa (2010), is risk, “a state of the world or a state of the world as we perceive it? Is seeing believing, or is believing seeing?” Regardless of your philosophical viewpoint, I feel it is worth acknowledging teachers’ perceptions of risk and how they may be barriers to change. The alternative, which is blaming teachers for being resistant or resilient to change is unlikely to result in collaborative, successful and sustainable change.
Perceptions of Risk Associated with the ‘Shift to ILE’
Teachers’ perceptions of risk are likely to be as different and unique as the people themselves:
- A teacher may be aware of how to change their practice, but not understand the theory that underpins why they should abandon many traditional practices.
- Alternatively, a teacher may have theoretical understanding for the shift to ILE, but not comprehend how to teach a different way.
- Proposed changes to ILE may conflict with existing activities and on-going professional learning in the school.
- Implementation expectations and time constraints may generate perceptions of risk.
- A shift away from traditional approaches to teaching and classroom organisation may challenge a teacher’s beliefs and assumptions about how children learn and what effective teaching looks like.
- A teacher may simply be unmotivated to change practices that are ingrained and have shown to produce positive student outcomes.
Teachers are at the ‘chalk face’, therefore any changes, whether to pedagogy, the learning environment, content or resources, will likely have a considerable impact on the how, what and where they teach, and how they feel about teaching. I would suggest that acknowledging teachers’ perceptions of risk may open up avenues of support which enable teachers to navigate risk and ultimately result in the type of positive change that makes a difference to student learning…but that is just my opinion. What do you think?
Aven, T., & Renn, O. (2009). On risk defined as an event where the outcome is uncertain. Journal of Risk Research, 12(1), 1-11.
Howard, S. K. (2013). Risk-aversion: Understanding teachers’ resistance to technology integration. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 22(3), 357-372.
Le Fevre, D. M. (2014). Barriers to implementing pedagogical change: The role of teachers' perceptions of risk. Teaching and Teacher Education, 38, 56-64.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation Development. (2013). Innovative learning environments (Educational Research and Innovation). Paris: OECD publishing.
Rosa, E. A. (2010). The logical status of risk–to burnish or to dull. Journal of Risk Research, 13(3), 239-253.
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