Transparency

by Jean Tower

"And I have to say that I’ve been surprised of late in my travels (4,000 miles worth just last week) at the almost palpable fear that a lot of teachers still exhibit when we start talking about putting content online or sharing documents or being transparent."
~ Will Richardson, from a recent blog entry (http://weblogg-ed.com/category/on-my-mind/ )

T his quote from Will’s blog entry is not the main theme of the entry, but it does allude to an attitude that I continue to encounter. Encouraging teachers to be transparent, to post material, resources, and assignments for all, evokes many strong reactions. Some educators seem to embrace the idea in the abstract, and then when the discussion moves to implementation, many begin to cite all the obstacles. I hear from teachers that they should not post assignments because "students need to learn to write the assignments down and be responsible" or class notes because "each student has to take notes themselves and not rely on a class note-taker." Other teachers have told me that they would be more transparent, sharing online, if they could allow access only to students or if their administration would support it. I understand the need for administrative support, but it seems that limiting access to students only is another facet of the "fear factor."

I think Will pinpoints the issue exactly – it is fear. For one thing, teachers are afraid of being compared to each other (the parents on the soccer field syndrome). They worry they will be judged "wanting" in terms of how much they post, the quality of what they write, or how often they update. Moreover, teachers are afraid transparency about grading will invite disputes over grades; how they are calculated, whether they are fair, and how equitable they are compared to others who teach the same subject or grade.

I can identify three elements that I think are instrumental in overcoming this fear: trust, practice, and results.

Trust
Trust and transparency go hand in hand, and are somewhat co-dependent. Transparency builds trust and a climate of trust sets the stage for teachers to feel comfortable about being transparent – sharing specifics about grading and sharing content and documents online.

School administrators can set the tone for enabling teachers to overcome their reluctance. In a recent address, Dr. Charles Gobron, Superintendent of Schools in Northborough and Southborough, said that recent research supports the claim that there is a correlation "between student achievement and the amount of trust in an educational setting." " Trust is a keystone in building relationships ," Dr. Gobron said, quoting educational researcher, Andy Hargreaves. Effective educational leaders set high standards for building relationships based on trust. They can build a culture of trust and they can support the efforts of teachers. It is this culture of trust that helps teachers be willing to take risks, the risk of transparency and sharing online.

Practice
It is by participating and doing that we build the capacity and strength to change and to incorporate new techniques into our professional lives. If, as educators, we can suspend fear or mistrust of a new teaching strategy long enough, we enable ourselves to try it out and incorporate it into our practice, so that we can evaluate its effectiveness.

Results
Results win over teachers. Teachers are most concerned with achieving results. They want their students to succeed; they want to maximize learning. I believe that if we can create a climate of trust, and encourage teachers to incorporate transparency through online sharing into their practice, then teachers will continue the practice based on the results they get.

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