Reform Clutter, Part I: What is it?

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In a fantastic paper about something else, Mary Kennedy (a professor of Teacher education at Michigan State University) uses the delightful phrase, reform clutter.  She describes how many new district superintendents, building leaders, or instructional coaches feel compelled, almost as a rite of passage, to introduce a reform.  Be it a new curriculum framework, a novel discipline code, an overhaul of the school schedule, or a different lesson plan format, “each initiative requires teachers to revise their routines and strategies and pulls their attention away from their teaching and toward a new logistical problem” (Kennedy, 2012, p. 596).

A multitude of factors influence the extent to which an individual teacher will embrace a given reform: whether the teacher believes the reform addresses a need pressing enough to endure the “necessary upheaval” of implementation; how closely the nature and content of the reform align with the teacher’s teaching style, beliefs, personality; how long the teacher has been using the current system that the reform aims to replace.

The result is often a state of reform clutter within the school.  Different teachers, having embraced different reforms along the way, practice their craft differently.  For example, one teacher has an effective behavior management system inspired by the Responsive Classroom model (https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/), while another teacher down the hall addresses behavior management with the Thoughts-Actions-Feelings Circle (http://www.positiveaction.net/), and a third teacher manages her class through a unique collaboration with her Playworks coach (http://www.playworks.org/).  The school depicted here is less like a whiteboard, easily erased to make room for new fresh starts, and more like a busy workshop in which various surfaces are strewn with various projects, at various stages of completion.

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