The Persistence of Presentism
by Andy Hargreaves & Dennis Shirley - 2009
Background/Context: This study draws on the voluminous research on teachers’ workplace orientations and especially on Dan Lortie’s documentation of conservatism, individualism, and presentism among teachers.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study investigated a school reform network of over 300 secondary schools entitled Raising Achievement Transforming Learning (RATL) to explore the role of the network’s interventions in increasing or diminishing presentism.
Population/Participants/Subjects: Quantitative performance data were analyzed for all 300 schools. Site visits were made to 10 RATL schools in which educational administrators and teachers were interviewed individually and in focus groups. Additional phone interviews were conducted with administrators in 14 RATL schools.
Intervention/Program/Practice: RATL provided a combination of interventions and supports for schools in the network, including data analysis and capacity enhancement; partnering mentor schools with low-performing schools; regional conferences; a Web portal for schools in the project; and a menu of short-, medium-, and long-term strategies for change.
Research Design: Qualitative interviews and focus groups of educators in RATL schools, along with secondary analysis of pupil performance data.
Conclusions/Recommendations: In Dan Lortie’s seminal research on teachers’ workplace orientations, he identified “presentism,” or short-term thinking, with conservatism and individualism. This research indicates that in the RATL project, individualism among teachers diminished, but this did not diminish either conservatism or presentism. The research identifies three kinds of presentism—endemic, adaptive, and addictive—that have amplified educational conservatism while altering its nature to fit the current culture and political economy of fast capitalism.
In his now classic study, Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study, Dan Lortie (1975) argued that the culture of public school teaching was characterized by three overlapping and mutually reinforcing orientations that impeded educational improvement: presentism, conservatism, and individualism. Lorties neologismpresentismreferred to the overwhelming pressures of schools that kept teachers locked into short-term perspectives and unable or unwilling to envision or plan collaboratively for long-term, systemic change. Related to presentism, conservatism referenced teachers mistrust of reform initiatives and their loyalty to established classroom practices that worked for them regardless of research findings or pupil learning outcomes. Finally, individualism was manifested in teachers preferences for working alone without the intrusion of colleagues or administrators in their own cellular classrooms.
Lortie argued that each of these three orientationspresentism, conservatism, and individualismwas interwoven with and embedded in the others. From this perspective, a major problem in educational improvement lay not in governance issues, school and community relationships, or a given curriculum, significant as these may be. Rather, Lorties research indicated that an enormous impediment to improvement resided not in these contextual factors, but rather in the very core of teachers own self-understandings of their work and its real meaning as a professional practice. Only if educators and their allies among policy makers and the public found ways to break this unholy trinity, Lortie held, could teaching ever become transformed into a powerful professional activity worthy of a nations children and reflecting the true potential of its educators.
Decades later, Cohn and Kottkamp (1993) used Lorties findings and updated surveys and interviews to assess the degree to which teacher orientations and other aspects of teachers work cultures had shifted with the passage of time. The intervening years had done nothing to improve teachers situation, they found, observing that teachers experienced increased vulnerability and decreased status (p. 107) and that the push for high standards and accountability in the wake of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) often contradicted teachers sense of their ethical obligations to attend to the social and emotional aspects of learning. As for Lorties three categories of presentism, conservatism, and individualism, Cohn and Kottkamp found that their power in shaping teachers workplace cultures had grown rather than diminished with the passage of time.
In subsequent years, Lorties findings, supplemented by those of Cohn and Kottkamp (1993), have provided important points of departure for school improvement efforts. Yet these efforts have been peculiarly asymmetrical. Efforts to address teacher conservatism and individualism through measures such as collaborative coaching and learning models (Achinstein & Athanases, 2006; Hord, 2004; Louis & Kruse, 1995; Newmann & Wehlage, 1995) or professional learning communities (Dufour & Eaker, 1998; Giles & A. Hargreaves, 2006; McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001) have been legion. Yet there have been few or no parallel efforts to deal with presentism. Presentism persists and even prospers. Why is this? And what are the effects?
In this article, we explore this conundrum through a conceptual analysis of Lorties original argument and a literature review of its implications in relation to subsequent strategic developments in, and research on, the culture of teaching and educational change. We then briefly describe findings from a study that we conducted in 20052006 of a network of over 300 underperforming secondary schools in the United Kingdom that were striving to secure measurable improvement in student achievement by developing, distributing, and disseminating short-term, medium-term, and long-term improvement strategies. Through its efforts to increase collaboration in the form of networking and to incorporate improvement strategies encompassing different timeframes, the project provided an unusual contemporary opportunity to examine efforts to address conservatism, individualism, and presentism in relation to educational change.
As we show next, our analysis suggests that even professionally inclusive and well-designed projects that offer collaborative opportunities and incentives to engage with long-range and short-term improvement can fail to eliminate presentism. In this study, we observed a persistence of presentism, albeit with important modifications in its nature and form. Accordingly, we argue that although the intervention we studied closely and others like it successfully weaken long-standing forms of presentism that can be described as endemic and adaptive, they simultaneously generate new forms of presentism that can be described as addictive. Addictive presentism has even greater potency within the culture of teaching and resonates with the high-speed political economy and culture of fast capitalism in contemporary society.
THE CONCEPTUAL ARGUMENT
At the outset, it is important to note that Lortie did not view a phenomenon such as presentism to be the manifestation of draconian administrators or Machiavellian policy makers. Rather, presentism sprang directly from what he termed the psychic rewards of teaching:
Teachers perceive their psychic rewards as scarce, erratic, and unpredictable. They are vulnerable to the ebb and flow of student response; even highly experienced teachers talk about bad years. Uncertainties in teaching inhibit the feeling that future rewards are ensured, and such doubts support the position that it is unwise to sacrifice present opportunities for future possibilities. (Lortie, 1975, p. 211)
In effect, Lorties explanation of presentism is that it is an ingrained or endemic feature of teaching that results from how the work of teaching is currently organized and the manner in which teachers derive their rewards from it. Phillip Jackson (1968) referred to this quality as one of immediacy. For Jackson, the pressing and insistent nature of crowded classroom life for teachers was one of its most salient features. The demands on teachers to organize, lead, and react to the vagaries and vicissitudes of large groups of energetic children gathered together in one place meant that teachers had few opportunities for long-term planning to develop cultures of inquiry and instructional modification that might enhance the quality of learning for all children.
Time has always been a tyranny for public school teachers, who often feel they are racing against the clock (Adelman, Walking-Eagle, & Hargreaves, 1997), with insufficient time to plan, prepare, reflect more deeply, or think ahead (Campbell, 1985). By documenting the problem of presentism, Lorties research played a role in sparking important reform initiatives that expanded time for increased collaboration (Bird & Little, 1986; Fullan, 1991), especially in regard to teachers preparation time (Handal, 1991; A. Hargreaves, 1994a). Some reformers sought to reorganize time creatively by, for instance, slightly lengthening instructional days and banking the hours saved for teachers to work together during school time every 10 working days or so (Dufour & Eaker, 1998).
Additional measures to address the endemic presentism of teaching and its inhibition of efforts to transform teaching and learning have included structured reflection (A. Hargreaves & Fullan, 1998; Schön, 1987), cycles of inquiry (Carr & Kemmis, 1986), and periodic school self-evaluation (MacBeath & McGlynn, 2003). Educators have been asked to debate and determine long-term missions and visions together and to explicate their own personal visions in the process; to develop 5-year plans for school improvement (Blankstein, 2004; Dufour & Eaker, 1998); and to be generally more mindful and self-aware of the purposes and practices embedded in their teaching (MacDonald & Shirley, in press).
In reality, however, most attempts at structured inquiry are confined to a few exceptional outliers, or they disappear at the end of preservice teacher education. School development plans are made irrelevant by unanticipated events within 2 years or less (Wallace & Pocklington, 2002); missions collapse when principals or superintendents leave, and streams of other mission-bearing administrators follow them in rapid succession (Fink & Brayman, 2006; Stone, Henig, Jones, & Pierannunzi, 2001); whole-school self-evaluation exercises are experienced as so exhausting that teachers often feel unable to endure them more than once (MacBeath & McGlynn, 2003); and after repeated failures at long-term, whole-school change, teachers in mid-to late career become cynical and concentrate on immediate issues in their own classrooms even more than they did before the reforms were implemented.
The impact of Lorties legacy on potential antidotes to endemic presentism has therefore been limited. Indeed, large-scale reform initiatives may even exacerbate presentism instead of alleviating it. This has been especially striking in recent years with the imposition of large-scale, fast-paced, and high-stakes reform initiatives that have led to a frantic and fearful focus on the present among teachers and also school administrators within cultures of what we call adaptive presentism.
What is adaptive presentism? In the past 1015 years, presentism among educators has changed from being a chronic and endemically natural condition of teaching, to an acute and unwanted one that demands a range of reluctant, short-term, and often cynical adaptation to imposed reforms. Years of encroaching standardization of teaching, characterized by increasingly detailed and prescribed curriculum and assessment systems, reductions in resources, and an accelerated pace as well as widening scope of educational reform, have separated teachers from their purposes and pasts and denied them opportunities to think and prepare for the future (Woods, Jeffrey, Troman, & Boyle, 1997) .
In education, this process was first described by Apple and others (Apple, 1989; Apple & Jungck, 1992; Densmore, 1987; Larson, 1977) as one of increasing intensification in teachers work, in which teachers were expected to respond to increasing pressures and comply with multiple innovations under conditions that were at best stable and at worst deteriorating. Intensification led to reduced time for relaxation and renewal, lack of time to retool skills and keep up with the field, increased dependency on externally prescribed materials, and cutting of corners and quality (see also A. Hargreaves, 1994b). In the corporate sphere, Abrahamson (2004) described how what he called repetitive change syndrome leads to similar effects of innovation overload (p. 3) and change-related chaos that also cause a loss of organizational memory (p. 10), distilled wisdom, and long-held senses of purpose and mission.
By the mid-1990s, the standardization juggernaut was reaching full speed in the United Kingdom, the United States, and many parts of Canada and Australia. Although standards-based reform has had some positive effectssuch as raising expectations among teachers for children in high-poverty schools and by highlighting the achievement gap between outcomes for White and Asian youth on the one hand, and Black and Hispanic youth on the otherits widespread degeneration into tested standardization and narrowing of teaching and curriculum has restricted public discourse about education, and constrained as well as undermined educators in their efforts to create inspiring and personalized curricula that connect with students prior cultural knowledge and that engage their parents and communities (Shirley, 1997, 2002; Shirley & Evans, 2007). As one community organizer in Houston, Texas, described the situation in a study that one of us conducted,
One of our principals was told by her district to make sure that homeless kids in a shelter shouldnt show up on testing day because they would depress the scores. Other principals have abolished free time for kids in first, second, and third grade. Principals tell us that they want to meet with us and work with us but that theyre so much under the gun to raise test scores that they just cant make the time. (Shirley & Evans, p. 123)
Texas is not atypical. In a separate study that one of us conducted of the responses to educational change over three decades of more than 230 teachers in eight U.S. and Canadian secondary schools, the mid to late 1990s was a watershed, a defining moment, in all eight schools (A. Hargreaves, 2003; A. Hargreaves & Goodson, 2006). The tightening and widening of testing and curriculum regulations within the context of the Regents Examination in New York State, for example, led teachers to feel that they were increasingly doing a skim job and focusing on anything that looks good for P.R. in order to prepare children to jump through the hoops. Pacing of content coverage was faster and tighter, but to an extent that more experienced teachers felt they were losing something in the process (A. Hargreaves, 2003; A. Hargreaves & Goodson). Teachers reported spending so much time dealing with paperwork and attending to examinations and regulations related to standards set from the outside that they did not get to spend as much time thinking about what (they) were going to be doing in the classroom and enjoying it. Teachers mourned the loss of their own and their students creativity, complained of being very burned out, and were tired of fighting it. Increasingly researchers are finding that success in delivering short-term targets has been temporary rather than lasting (MacBeath et al., 2007). It has been achieved at the price of long-term sustainability in lifelong learning and higher order proficiencies within a broader curriculum. Short-term gains that quickly reach a plateau have been made at the expense of continuing improvements that endure beyond an initial year or two of rising results. These phenomena are similar to findings from the private sector that indicate that corporations that focus unduly on quarterly returns as their impetus for improvement suffer negative long-term consequences (Dodd & Favaro, 2007).
The emergence of this new form of adaptive presentism in the context of large-scale reforms has had major consequences for human relationships within schools. The kind of presentism that Lortie described and that we have categorized as endemic was largely a condition of teachers occupational socialization alone. Teachers cellular workplace cultures, which Lortie described as individualism but that others (Zahorik, 1987; Zielinsky & Hoy, 1983), perhaps more accurately, described as privatism, shielded them to a large degree from the unwanted surveillance of educational administrators.
With the emergence of the standards, accountability, and high-stakes testing movements of the last quarter century, however, both teachers and educational administrators have come to experience a common pressure to raise achievement in spurts of intense activity with outcomes that can be measured through statistical analyses of pupil learning gains. In a very real sense, the short-term thinking that characterizes the culture of presentism has moved from the classroom level to the school level, encompassing teachers and administrators together. Of course, there is extensive literature to show that for many decades, the work of administrators has been fragmented, short-term, characterized by interruptions, and pervaded by busyness (Cusick, 2002). During times of endemic presentism, this prevented school administrators from engaging with teaching and learning as instructional leaders (Sarason, 1996). But in the past quarter century, short-term thinking has been amplified by an increase and acceleration in external reform demands (A. Hargreaves & Goodson, 2006). High-stakes testing with associated punitive consequences has had the effect of compelling administrators to achieve the short-term returns of adequate yearly progress in the United States and equivalent measures abroad (Theoharis, 2007). This has led to school-level changes such as increased instructional time, additional classes, and extra tutoring, but it has still not drawn administrators into long-term engagement with the depth of teaching and learning processes themselves (A. Hargreaves & Fink, 2005). Increasing rates of principal succession, occasioned in part by the demand for school turn-arounds, have exacerbated the lack of attention to the long-term (Fink & Brayman, 2006; Fullan, 2007). In many instances, the special pressures caused by the new form of adaptive presentism generated by demands for accountability have proved to be counterproductive. In jurisdictions as far apart as San Diego and the United Kingdom, policy analysts and change experts have shown that forced and fast-paced measures to raise achievement results in easily tested basic skills have reached an early plateau because deeper achievements in improving the depth and quality of teaching and learning have been ignored. (Fullan, 2007; Hopkins, 2007; Stein, Hubbard, & Mehan, 2004). The United States blue ribbon committee that produced Tough Choices or Tough Times similarly criticized the overemphasis on lifting achievement in easily tested basics, acknowledging that testing mania has sacrificed the deeper, more creative teaching and learning that is appropriate for an advanced knowledge economy (New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, 2007).
Because of the limitations of reform strategies that use heavy top-down pressure with varying degrees of bottom-up support, policy approaches are also starting to incorporate lateral, side-to-side strategies of professional learning, exchange, and engagement in order to increase professional motivation and stimulate improvement across schools over the long term and in the short run through networks of mutual learning and assistance (Fullan, 2007; D. Hargreaves, 2004; Hartley, 2007). Advanced versions of these systemic reform alternatives that have a strong laterally driven component to them, combined with the persistence of high-stakes testing, are initially most evident outside the United States in jurisdictions such as Ontario, Canada (Fullan, 2007), and England (Hopkins, 2007), which entered the era of large-scale change, curriculum standards, and high-stakes testing earlier than the United States. They are a sign, perhaps, of what is to come beyond the more punitive orientations of prescribed reform.
How do these emerging strategies of systemic change impact presentism? Recall that an essential part of Lorties original argument was that teachers presentism did not exist in isolation, but was inextricably interwoven with their conservatism and individualism. Hence, before we can understand how recent changes have impacted presentism, we need to know more about conservatism and individualism.
A significant body of empirical research clearly demonstrates that teacher individualism has significant negative consequences for student achievement. Teacher individualism has been linked to lower levels of achievement in literacy and math (Newmann & Wehlage, 1995; Rosenholtz, 1989); weakened effectiveness of high school subject departments (McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001); diminished degrees of teacher efficacy and self-efficacy (Ashton & Webb, 1986; Rosenholtz); a lack of relational trust that has negative ramifications for student achievement (Bryk & Schneider, 2004); and failed implementation of innovations and reforms (Fullan, 2001).
In response, there have been significant efforts not simply to restructure but also to reculture (A. Hargreaves, 1990; Fullan, 1993) schools according to principles of teacher collaboration and professional community. Individualism had its antidote, and although the antidote has not always been administered, its effects have been powerful. Change advocates and change agents have encouraged and often enabled greater collaboration among teachers (A. Hargreaves, 1991a; Lieberman & Miller, 2004) in cultures of interactive professionalism (A. Hargreaves & Fullan, 1996). They have been able to point to successful outliers of existing collaboration (Nias, Southworth, & Yeomans, 1989) and to demonstrate their tendencies to benefit student achievement (Bryk & Schneider, 2004; Newmann & Wehlage, 1995). Following Little (1990), others have pushed the general idea of collaboration into a more robust collegiality in which teachers have not only shared but also inquired into and challenged one anothers practice (Fielding, 1999; D. Hargreaves, 1994). A few writers have even extended the plea for teacher collaboration into more activist, collaborative engagements with parents and communities (A. Hargreaves, 2000; Oakes, Rogers, & Lipton, 2006; Sachs, 2003; Shirley, 1997) as well as students themselves (Levin, 2000; McQuillan, 2005; Wasley, Hampel, & Clark, 1997; Wilson & Corbett, 2001).
However, the idea and practice of collaboration has sometimes been superficial and distracting, failing to demonstrate any improvements in teaching and learning (Bryk, Sebring, Kerbow, Rolbow, & Easton, 1998; D. Hargreaves, 1994). When mandated with little sensitivity to teachers needs for individuality, collaboration quickly degenerates into contrived collegiality (A. Hargreaves, 1991b), in which teachers consent is manipulated to secure their compliance with administrators predetermined agendas. As a result, some researchers have articulated their calls for collaboration with greater precision and clarity to emphasize the imperative of developing schools as strong professional communities (Louis & Kruse, 1995; McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001; Newmann, King, & Youngs, 2000; Newmann & Wehlage, 1995) or professional learning communities (Dufour & Eaker, 1998; Hall & Hord, 1987; A. Hargreaves, 2007; A. Hargreaves & Fullan, 1998; Stoll & Louis, 2007). Here, collaborative efforts are focused on improving teaching and learning to raise levels of student achievement, often drawing on student assessment data and other kinds of evidence to add precision to improvement efforts (Elmore & Burney, 1999; Fullan, 2001; Fullan, Hill, & Crévola, 2006).
Despite their greater precision, though, professional learning communities are not a collaborative panacea. Attempts to impose them by mandate and to focus them just on high-stakes subjects like literacy and math (e.g., Fullan et al., 2006) can lead to the marginalization of other kinds of inquiry that might arise spontaneously among teachers, turning them into what A. Hargreaves (2003) called performance training sects (p. 176). These channel teachers along prescribed paths of improvement in tightly delineated areas of focus through compulsory collaboration in which others outside the classroom exercise a monopoly over what is to count as achievement, evidence, and truth (Shirley & A. Hargreaves, 2006). More collaboration does not, therefore, necessarily lead to decreased classroom and school conservatism.
As Lortie first argued, presentism, conservatism, and individualism remain interdependent. However, addressing just one of these orientations by, for example, reducing individualism may not necessarily lead to accompanying reductions in conservatism or even, as we shall show, in presentism.
To explore this hypothesis, we now focus on an important recent policy initiative that is of unusual salience to a study of presentism and its effects because of the manner in which it explicitly conceptualized short-, medium-, and long-term changes as part of its theory of action. Ironically, we find that although the change strategies diminish one of Lorties three orientationsindividualismthey unexpectedly and dramatically exacerbate a new and virulent form of presentism, with curious and complicated consequences for conservatism.
A SYSTEMIC INTERVENTION
In ways that parallel current educational policy directions in the United States, education policy in England in the 1990s was highly centralized and characterized by a prescribed curriculum, pervasive standardized testing, and intrusive top-down inspection and intervention systems. These strategies of standardization existed alongside marketplace models of reform that involved increasing choice and specialization among schools on principles of competition for resources and students (Whitty, Power, & Halpin, 1998). However, at the beginning of this century, a repeated shortfall in reaching national student achievement targets drove the United Kingdoms Department for Education and Skills to search for and support alternative strategies for school improvement and raising achievement (Department for Education and Skills, 2007).
One significant variant of these alternative improvement options was developed in England by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT). This organization stimulates, coordinates, and to some extent regulates the redesignation and sometimes reconstruction of over 90% of English secondary schools so that each has a themed identity (such as languages, the arts, or sports). The SSAT is funded directly by the government, with supplementary support from foundations, and is independent of school district (or in British nomenclature, local authority) control.
In its project, Raising Achievement Transforming Learning (RATL), the SSAT devised an improvement model that promoted the principle of schools learning from other schools as an explicit, and even emphatic, theme in its theory-of-action. Through three successive annual cohorts of phased-in participation that encompassed approximately 300 schools in total, RATLs project leaders invited schools to join what was initially called an underperforming schools network, on the basis of the schools having experienced a measurable dip in achievement results over 1 or 2 years. This dip was manifested in one or more of three areas: the percentage of students achieving grades A*C in their General Certificate of Secondary Education Examination at about age 16 (generally regarded as the minimally accepted requirement to proceed to university-bound or college preparatory courses in England and Wales); levels of student performance in standardized attainment tests (SATs) at what the UK government designates as Key Stage points 3 and 4 (around ages 11 and 14); and measures of value-added achievement (the extra value that a school adds to the prior level of attainment that a student demonstrates on entry to that school or at an earlier testing point).
After writing a project bid to be engaged in RATL, a schools principals (called headteachers in the United Kingdom) and teacher leaders were invited to initial and subsequent regional conferences. At the conferences, RATL leaders and other invited speakers made inspirational presentations and provided the headteachers with expert technical assistance on how to interpret achievement data in ways that would help them identify which students most needed assistance. The headteachers were given access to a range of successful mentor schools and brought into relationship with other educational leaders who served students similar to their own and who could be contacted to provide assistance on both larger conceptual issues as well as on the daily nitty-gritty challenges of educational change. An annual discretionary budget of £9,000 (approximately US $16,000) incentivized schools involvement, and a Web portal gave participating schools access to each other and to information about one anothers progress, as well as opportunities for communication with mentor schools before and after on-site visits.
Of particular interest for our discussion of presentism is that RATL, unlike many change efforts, developed an explicit taxonomy of time-related school improvement strategies. These took the form of a self-described menu of short-term, medium-term, and long-term strategies for raising achievement. Short-term approaches to improvement were those that could be implemented immediately, with an almost instantaneous impact on achievement and success. The strategies include providing students with test-taking strategies, offering intensive study (or revision in British English) sessions after school and on weekends, creating tutoring opportunities with peers and subject specialists, recognizing student accomplishments, implementing technology-enriched supplementary materials, and initiating parent-student-teacher conferences to discuss student progress. They also included the provision of bananas, lettuce, and water to students immediately before they took high-stakes examinations, to enhance brain functioning.
Medium-term strategies for improvement differed from short-term approaches in that they required advanced planning and collaborative commitment. These approaches could not be implemented immediately, but rather needed a few months to a year to plan, pilot, modify, evaluate, and refine. The medium-term strategies listed in the project include teacher mentor programs, a technology-based learning program to monitor students homework online in real time, data-informed assessment to target interventions in relation to vulnerable students, and school training days focused on raising achievement and transforming learning.
Finally, long-term strategies required serious commitment to data gathering, conceptualization, planning, and implementation that went far beyond a calendar year. These kinds of strategies cannot simply be parachuted into a school without affecting the surrounding school organization and climate, for they typically try to raise student achievement by transforming the fundamental quality and character of teaching and learning. Long-term strategies do not show immediate results in measurable student achievement and might even lead to dips in performance as teachers go through an inevitable period of trial and error as they abandon older routines and experiment with new approaches (Fullan, 1991). Such strategies require complex and sometimes controversial changes in teachers classroom practices, subject identities, and school structures; they personalize learning in its content and its relationship to students prior knowledge; and they change the power dynamics of the school and classroom by giving more voice to students and their parents. Long-term strategies specifically provided by RATL included organizational restructurings in a building to enhance distributed leadership; shifts in power structures to increase student voice and ownership of learning; the embedded use of iterative, ongoing assessment in lesson planning and curriculum design; and the establishment of new venues for sharing student learning with parents and community members to enhance community accountability.
RATLs improvement strategies and targets are not politically or administratively imposed on schools in given timelines as part of government mandates. Rather, in accordance with principles of professional discretion and collaboration, the targets are made available to, developed by, and shared among schools working with other schools on improvement and achievement goals together. Further, RATL explicitly addresses and attempts to articulate and integrate the relationship between the short, medium, and long term as a way to forge connections between immediate results and long-range transformations.
Secondary analysis of performance data collected by the RATL project itself reveals that almost 73% (164) of the 224 schools in the first cohort that joined the project in 2003 increased their levels of five General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) A*C passes by a mean of 7.3% over the first 2 years. The mean rate of improvement for all project schools during this period was 4.7%, compared with 3.7% for all secondary schools in England. For the second cohort entry in 2004, 80 out of the 105 involved schools (just over 76%) increased their levels of performance in achieving five Grade A*C GCSE passes by an average of 7.8% over the next year. The mean improvement for all schools in this cohort was 5.4%, compared with a national average of 2.9% in the same period.
Identification of factors that might be responsible for achievement gains in the improving schools and absence of gains in the others was undertaken through qualitative data collection in a representative range of schools that we and our research team visited from March 2005 through June 2006 (A. Hargreaves, Shirley, Evan, Stone-Johnson, & Riseman, 2007). This comprised 1-day site visits to 10 of the schools by visiting research project teams; informal observations and school walk-throughs were undertaken, and extended interviews were conducted with headteachers and teacher leaders directly involved with the project. Additional telephone interviews were conducted with headteachers in a further 14 project schools. Relevant archival data were gathered for the sampled schools, including institutional publications, demographic information, program literature, reform strategy documents, examination results, and standardized test scores. Web-based data were collected from the extensive RATL portal and school Web sites, including detailed public inspection reports, lecture notes from RATL conference speakers, participant exchanges on the RATL portal, and posted case studies of RATL schools testing data. Observations were also made and focus group interviews conducted during RATL conferences for participant schools, as well as workshops for mentor (consultant) headteachers. All data were transcribed, analyzed, and coded to protect participant anonymity.
Given its explicit incorporation of long-term and collaborative improvement strategies, how successful was RATL in addressing the existing culture of presentism and individualism in teaching in its effort to bring about significant transformation in teaching and learning?
In the data we collected, there was little evidence of enthusiasm for or engagement in planning and implementing long-term strategies for transforming teaching and learning. There were some signs of emerging, if somewhat scattered, interest in developing greater student voice, establishing virtual learning environments for students and parents, and providing whole-school workshops in teaching and learning. When observations did reveal incidences of efforts to transform learningas in one schools arts-based initiatives to achieve curriculum integration, or anothers invention of its own strategies to engage parents of immigrant students in school-based learning activities, or yet anothers widening of student opportunities to share decision-making roles in school governancethere was little evidence that these developments were a specific consequence of RATL and its aim to transform learning.
The vast majority of schools attention, efforts, and enthusiasm were instead squarely focused on short-term improvement initiatives. Short-term strategies had great popularity among, and immediate appeal to, participating schools. By consulting strategy menus and observing other schools that showed them at work, schools we visited successfully and energetically employed a broad and varied range of short-term strategies. RATL leaders provided lists of top tips and study skills for students, gave headteachers ideas on how to organize one-to-one mentoring, and facilitated the creation of e-mentoring services connected to students in other RATL schools. RATL staff encouraged headteachers to consider innovative strategies, such as paying past students to mentor existing ones, using chief examiners to share grading schemes, and consulting university professors affiliated with RATL to disclose inside knowledge about successful student work. Other short-term strategies included peer tutoring; structured review sessions after school, on Saturdays, during school holidays, in breakfast clubs, or immediately before examinations; and the replacement of unstructured student study leave with structured in-school review sessions, right up to the point of examination.
Headteachers had a voracious interest in and enthusiasm for strategies that could game the system to improve pupil achievement results. For example, they learned that they could collapse timetables before examinations to enable subject departments to have a more concentrated focus on test preparation. They discovered that they could start to collect student cell phone numbers to track down students who did not turn up on examination days and thus depressed results. They swapped ideas about using RATL funds to provide pupils with extrinsic incentives and rewards, such as free prom tickets for students who met their targets. They brought in motivational speakers for vulnerable groups, such as Year 11 (Grade 10) boys. They organized homework more efficiently and transparently through homework clubs and new Web-based home learning and homework organizers that are stamped when completed and visible to parents.
Short-term strategies such as these all had a startling and attractive simplicity. They required only teachers awareness and attention, not rumination or inner reflection. Student performance effects were often immediate, and by raising students achievement above critical cut scores, faculty morale improved. Many of the strategies may not have changed or deepened the process of learning. They might not have connected learning more closely to students lives, transformed classroom pedagogy, or ensured that learning would be sustainable and last a lifetime. Nonetheless, the immediate achievement and motivational effects of many of these strategies were real and potent. In underresourced and underachieving schools, the relief at having positive results in an era of increasing public concern about education was enormous. Educators felt that they had joined a network that gave them concrete ideas that were easy to implement and readily transferable across schools. Moreover, most of these short-term strategies did not have the same ethical question marks against them as strategies of cynical student selection, curriculum narrowing, or teaching only to the test that have been documented in some U.S. schools (Booher-Jennings, 2005; McNeil, 2000).
What kinds of medium-term strategies did RATL headteachers adopt? Perhaps it is not surprising that, given the press to raise achievement results quickly, few RATL educators gave much thought to medium-term strategies. Some did try to modify curricula or develop new specialist identities for their schools that required piloting of new programs. Others sought to develop new kinds of relationships with parents and community-based organizations, and a few introduced new computer-based learning programs that required professional development and support for faculty over a 2- or 3-year period.
It is intriguing, however, that RATLs midterm strategies of training teachers to collect and interpret complex data on value-added achievement were often used in short-term ways. For example, in some schools, these strategies were adapted to provide clear evidence that could focus staff attention on, and develop a sense of urgency concerning, the existence of underperformance. Others found new ways to identify individual students or entire categories of students at greatest risk of failing their examinations so that intervention strategies, such as additional mentoring or practicing exam preparation techniques, could be targeted at them more precisely. Still others sought to stimulate conversations about achievement or underachievement among particular students, teachers, and parents and piloted new lines of communication that would inform parents immediately when new data indicated that their children were struggling in given areas of the curriculum.
Beyond even these limited midterm strategies, very few schools seemed able or ready to conceptualize long-term changes, let alone begin to implement them. Some headteachers had exciting visions of schools that would be open to communities until late in the evening and on weekends; or transformed with wholly new architectures and layouts, to include a variety of learning centers clustered around computer stations, laboratory equipment, and arts platforms; or energized with new forms of assessments customized to pupils diverse learning styles, to include portfolios, exhibitions, the performing arts, and political debates. Yet those headteachers did not seem to be able to connect these long-term visions to the short-term imperative to boost achievement.
What explained this almost exclusive preference for the short-term over the medium-term and long-term in the pursuit of educational change? What kept teachers in the present, when the improvement design also beckoned them toward the future?
PRESENTISM REVISED AND REVISITED
In relation to Lorties original discussion of what we have called endemic presentism, although some headteachers in RATL occasionally portrayed the professional cultures of their schools as fairly simple-minded ones that focused on what worked, not on big gambles, or as consisting of people who were conservative by their nature and dont like change, in general, RATL did much to challenge the preexisting culture of presentism.
Teachers and leaders in RATL schools were able to find the time, energy, and inclination to contemplate change and think beyond their own classroom practice. The projects funding support purchased time to attend conferences and visit other schools. Teachers were able to consider and connect with a range of improvement alternatives, including the large menu of RATL strategies for raising achievement. In this respect, RATL appeared to conquer the traditional tyranny of time that entraps teachers in the isolated present of their existing classrooms. Its networking qualities alleviated individualism and helped teachers to overcome the endemic presentism that concerned Lortie. However, the alternatives that most commanded schools attention were still not longer term in nature.
One reason was that although the impact of endemic presentism had eased and, in some ways, been directly addressed by creating clear conditions for teachers to work together outside their own classrooms, many elements of the top-down culture of what we describe as adaptive presentism became evident. As Hartley (2007) argued, lateral strategies of improvement are increasingly being used to supplement and provide extra motivational support for securing prescribed top-down goals and performance targets, rather than to replace them. In other words, despite the introduction of more laterally driven improvement strategies, top-down, short-term performance targets remain, as do their adaptive consequences for the present-oriented culture of teaching and change.
Within the RATL project schools, the emergence of adaptive presentism manifested itself in three ways. First, teachers and headteachers repeatedly referred to how multiple innovations and simultaneous government initiatives, along with a high-stakes culture of inspection and reform that put a premium on immediate results (especially in schools that are not performing well), exerted a powerful pull on them and their schools toward present-time short-term goals. One headteacher described changes she made in her school by requiring teachers to hand in examples of assessed student coursework: You will hand your coursework in, and if you havent got it in, youre answering to us. . . . And I think it sharpened the staff up no end because the staff then realized that they have got to chase coursework by law.
Headteachers worried that the testing gets too repetitive. It bores the kids. Although they frequently praised RATL funding for helping them to hire academic specialists and to acquire the best computer-assisted instruction that would enable pupils to attain effective revision strategies for attacking different kinds of test items, they also complained, Were getting inundated with data now full time. . . . Its just too much, and everyones too busy, and it just seems to be coming from everywhere. To cope with the deluge of spreadsheets and to make the information on them accessible to teachers, headteachers in one school color coded all the kids, which led to a simplified system that caused one deputy head to wonder if the data just reinforced what they [the teachers] had already judged anyway.
One headteacher remarked, Across the whole of Britain there are far too many changes that are taking place all at the same time, and teachers are being inundated, not just the leaders, but teachers are being inundated with all these things. In addition to being involved in RATL networks, for instance, some schools were required to participate in other networks established by their local authorities (school districts). These networks were often seen as being poorly led, directionless, quite unsatisfactory, and unable to address the meaty issues of curriculum and achievement. Few of the headteachers saw any explicit connection between the reforms sponsored by their local authorities and the strategies recommended in the RATL menu. This palpable disconnection contributed to a sense of fragmented educational leadership that only could be resolved by the local school itself.
Second, these effects of adaptive presentism were exacerbated by a project funding structure and involvement process that typifies many policy initiatives and their short-term cycles for implementation. RATL resources were allocated on the condition that they be spent on initiatives designed to yield measurable increases in student attainment within 1 year. As one headteacher remarked, although RATL money was welcome, the only problem [is that we] have to spend it very quickly and this ends up being spent on short-term things. With more time to plan, [it] may be spent on better things.
Third, within a performance-driven policy culture of short-term, results-oriented improvement of the kind that has characterized educational reform in England and elsewhere, what begins as a short-term, calculated, and conscious adaptation or coping strategy can easily turn into an ingrained and accepted culture and discourse of action and change. Just such a managerial discourse or performance-driven vocabulary of change was pervasively evident among many of RATLs headteachers and teacher leaders. Their discourse of raising achievement amounted to a language of moving people into and through numerical cells, or grade categories, by targeting the right groups, pushing students harder, moving them up, raising aspirations, buckling people down, getting a grip on where youngsters were, and so on. Although this data-driven focus on efficient cellular management of students and their attainment certainly helped identify and organize students in need of academic assistance, it also came to preoccupy many teachers and headteachers thinking about how to bring about improvement through more effective monitoring, control, and management of existing approaches to teaching and learning. This was at the expense of also trying to raise achievement by using a vocabulary that addressed how to deepen and transform the quality of teaching and learning.
In summary, although RATL eased aspects of endemic presentism by offering increased resources and opportunities for networking among schools working with schools, some aspects of adaptive presentism were intensified by its use of short-term funding cycles tied to annual results, by the continuing and inescapable presence of parallel policy demands and performance requirements, and by a language of change that emphasized management of short-term effectiveness rather than leadership of deeper transformation.
THE NEW PRESENTISM
The major reason for the persistence of presentism within RATLs energizing reform strategy, however, is mainly not to be found in Lorties endemic form that RATL has successfully addressed, or even in the adaptive forms of presentism, which sometimes still persist within the wider policy environment and its associated funding structures. Rather, a new kind of presentismwhat we call addictive presentismmay be emerging that is even more culturally potent than its predecessors.
Short-term strategies have value when they are clearly connected to longer term goals. Ideally, they serve as quick wins that demonstrate the achievability of success and build confidence to invest in more difficult longer term changes (Schmoker, 2006). Thus, Hopkins (2001) argued that changes to the school environment, attendance and uniform will be short-term changes, but can result in tangible gains. Following a period of low morale, such visible changes will demonstrate that things are to be different in the school (p. 167). Similarly, research on community organizing for school reform shows that among traditionally disempowered groups, such as minority parents who are agitating for change, concrete early victories, such as the erection of crosswalks or road signs that improve safety at their childrens school, are crucial because they show in a tangible form that their civic engagement has generated real results (Shirley, 1997, 2002).
Some headteachers of RATL schools appeared to concur with these perspectives. They used short-term strategies as confidence-building levers toward achieving longer-term transformational objectives:
And specifically, I think the short-term stuff from the Raising Achievement project . . . allowed me to come back into school, do it, and get a response from it, an impact from it. And that feeds the next stage, and that feeds the next stage. I think it makes a real difference in the short term. Its also hardened our medium and long-term thinkingfocused that much more [on student achievement].
Yet in general, into the 3rd year of RATLs implementation, short-term improvement measures seemed, in most cases, to be at risk of impeding long-term, more sustainable transformation. Instead of building peoples confidence to break out of the existing culture of presentism in teaching and to engage in the step-by-step struggle toward long-term goals, the spectacular and affirming success of the short-term strategies entrenched schools in the culture of presentism even more deeply. They became ends in themselves.
Schools were not merely attracted to short-term strategies; they were addicted to them. The strategies were simple to employ, widespread, and available, they could be used right away, and they did not challenge or encourage teachers to question and revise their existing approaches to teaching and learning. The rush to raise achievement injected teachers with a parallel rush of short-term successes. The information and ideas that educators acquired were practical and immediately useable; as one educator said, [ they provided] experience and good practice in other places that we can bring back and customize. At a conference, one headteacher described,
The Assistant Head and I went together and we came away really, really enthusiastic because there were lots of practical hints, practical tips, things that if you took just one of them wasnt going to make a big difference, but if you pick and choose several and say, how can I apply that to my school? that was the way that we felt we could move.
The result was a hyperactive culture of change that could be exhilarating for those who felt that they needed an exogenous shock to overcome their traditional ways of teaching. Yet there was little evidence that the new ideas that headteachers shared with one another reflected the mindful inquiry and professional deliberation praised in the literature on professional learning communities. One headteacher commented, The short-term things, the really short-term thingssome of them were just so gimmicky and great, they were fantastic! Another simply plowed all the project funds into paying teachers for revision sessions after schools and on weekends, which provided them with extra income but appeared disconnected from any collaborative inquiry into how daily in-class instruction could be improved. And for another headteacher, the solution to increased success in tested achievement was to be found in bananas and water:
Weve done warm-up sessions before the exam starts with PowerPoint kinds of activities, the whole bananas and water thing . . . feeding them before they start their exam, which has gone down far, not just because half of them dont eat before they come to school, but also because it shows that we care about them. So the whole kind of climate in the exam room is completely different. Its much more us being on their side . . . and all of that because of the achievement project [RATL].
It is significant that headteachers themselves worried that short-term changes could be yet another source of pressure for a job that was already impossible:
Its been the hardest year Ive ever had, this year, because Ive just been pulled in so many directions. Ive really enjoyed doing the job, but you get a little bit of overload, because you go to conferences and you hear all of this stuff thats being done. And you think Oh, were not doing that! And how do we do? We need to go back and perhaps need to do some things. So you get that pressure, that you think, Oh, woware we as good as we really are? Should we really be here? . . . . The other schools are really, really high-flying schools. And then I have the dreadful pressures from the head of department. And guilt. . . . And so I feel Ive been very torn this year. . . . And Im rushingjust rushing from place to place.
To cope with these pressures, headteachers used RATL regional conferences very much like business leaders anywhere: They hunted out new strategies that could be accommodated by their schools to resolve pressing problems with a minimum of stress and resistance. To facilitate the rapid-fire sharing of information, RATL leaders set up workshop sessions modeled on speed dating events in which headteachers had 2 minutes to share a new and successful strategy that they piloted before moving to learn about new programs and policies piloted by other headteachers in other RATL schools. From our research notes:
In one of the conferences the research team observed, the majority of the strategies shared by heads and assistant heads at their tables were short-term. Not only are these strategies quick and easy to implement but they are quick and easy to explainespecially in a setting that has limited opportunity for extended conversations. After their brief conversations, those heads who share common interests frequently and quickly exchange business cards before they leave.
Using the adaptive logic of short-term funding and conditioned by a policy culture characterized by immediacy and a teaching culture steeped in endemic presentism, headteachers experienced a combined pressure to preserve and perpetuate the short-term orientation as a substitute for, rather than a stimulant of, long-term transformation. When an additional array of short-term strategies is then introduced that generates undoubted success and satisfaction among collaborative communities of energetically interacting professionals, but in ways that do not challenge the core of how they teach, the probability that presentism will persist and even proliferate is increased.
The persistence of presentism in teaching, especially in an emerging era of more collaborative teacher involvement in laterally driven, data-informed improvement and educational reform, is therefore not merely professionally endemic, nor even organizationally and politically adaptive; it is becoming personally, professionally, and institutionally addictive. Addictions are patterns of action and motivation that lead to increasing compulsiveness in behavior. They are things that people are unwilling to give up to make life fuller and healthiershort-term gratifications for longer term meaning and reward (Schaef, 1987). Furthermore, addictions can be a collective and an individual phenomenon. According to Schaef and Fassel (1988), Addictive organizations are the infrastructure of the addictive society. They are the glue that perpetuates addictive functioning on the societal level (p. 54). When schools follow policy mandates and pursue the relentless quest for short-term gains, they evolve into such addictive organizations.
The RATL intervention, typical of an emerging pattern of laterally driven improvement strategies within a continuing culture of top-down performance targets, has eliminated a great deal of individualism along with old forms of endemic presentism. But in their place has emerged a collaborative culture of addictive and adaptive presentism that yields short-term results in existing and somewhat conservative definitions of achievement, rather than also bringing about long-term change and transformation. More than 30 years on from Lorties cultural triangle of presentism, conservatism, and individualism, there now appears to be an emerging and inverse relationship between individualism and presentism that is associated with a new and contradictory kind of conservatisma conservatism that takes teachers out of the isolation of their classrooms in emotionally effervescent exchanges of instant strategies that enhance effectiveness in what already exists rather than reflecting on and reforming what already exists. This paradoxical juxtaposition has its sources and supports not just in particular educational reform strategies but also in the changing social environment.
DENYING THE FUTURE
Although the persistence of presentism is a characteristic of the occupation and organization of teaching, it is also a significant and intensifying aspect of the political economy of postindustrial society in developed countries that is changing how the work of teaching is being defined and gets done. These two dimensionseducational and societalare increasingly embedded in one another.
Economically, Richard Sennett (2006) argued that the crucial move toward short-term thinking resulted from a shift in large companiesfrom managerial to shareholder powerthat has occurred over the past quarter century. Newly empowered investors acted as impatient capital and wanted short-term rather than long-term results as evidenced in ever-increasing quarterly returns. Instead of managers assuming long-term responsibility for the firm through building loyalty, trust and institutional knowledge, impatient investors hold the real reins of power and are increasingly insistent on immediate returns (p. 71).
Short-term contracts, outsourcing, temporary and flexible labor, the end of tenured and secure careers with benefits awaiting people at the endall these break apart the relationships of loyalty, trust, and pride in ones craft or profession that bond working groups together and develop agreed and understood standards among them (Harvey, 1989, 2005). As mutual accountability and interdependence disappear, contractual accountability takes their place in the form of closely specified, externally set performance targets on which further employment and contracts depend.
When the target-driven culture entered the public sector through the disciplines of new public management in countries like the United Kingdom in the last 20 years, public sector workers and professionals in welfare services, health, and education were also increasingly held accountable in terms of their capacity to meet imposed performance targets (Hartley, 2007). It is significant that, until very recently, short-term targets were rarely applied to areas that would demand corporate sacrifices and responsibilityfor instance, in environmental policies or increased support and debt relief for developing countries (S. Lewis, 2006).
In an age of economic insecurity and declining credibility in the commitment and capacity of politics to control the future, it is little wonder that people invest their passions and purposes in the present. In the past, it was the poor and economically marginalized who, in the words of anthropologist Oscar Lewis (1966), dealt with the improbability of achieving success in terms of the values and goals of the larger society (p. 49) by abandoning the future to fate and creating a culture with a strong present-time orientation, with relatively little ability to defer gratification and to plan for the future [as well as] a sense of resignation and fatalism (p. 53)
But in the new capitalism, the flight from the future is marked more by energetic indulgence rather than fatalistic resignation among a much broader socioeconomic group. At a time of insecurity, people deal with the finality of death and the end of the future differently than their generational predecessors. They do not save to leave a legacy, prudently prepare for the rewards of religious eternity, or even sacrifice themselves on the battlefield for the greater good or glory of national security or identity. Rather, they deny and try to cheat and control death by what Bauman (2006) called the marginalization of concerns with finality, through the devaluation of anything durable, long-lasting, long-term; the devaluation of anything likely to outlive individual life (p. 39). In postindustrial presentism, people delay frustration, not gratification (p. 8). They live on credit, lift their faces, spend their childrens inheritance, and shop in orgies of consumption in which everyone is encouraged to imagine that they will be forever young in a world that gives no thought to tomorrow.
This consumption of the present is supported and stimulated by a workplace environment that values moving on rather than settling in, short-term interactions rather than long-term relationships, and fleeting migration from task to task rather than pride in mastering a challenging craft that requires sustained and collaborative effort over years. No critical engagement, no challenge to the organizations purposes, no long-term thinking or moral depth are required or desired here, for institutions based on short-term transactions and constantly shifting tasks . . . do not breed that depth. Indeed, the organization can fear it (Sennett, 2006, p. 105). Seduction by the short-term immersion in the interactions of the present divides analyzing from believing, ignores the glue of emotional attachment, penalizes digging deep (pp. 121122). In this all-consuming and opportunistic present-time environment, your skill lies in cooperating, whatever the circumstances (p. 126).
Here, perhaps, is the key and the clue to the paradox of presentism in educational change in which, in the organizations of the new, flexible economy and the public sector institutions that serve them, presentismunlike in Lorties dayaccompanies decreased individualism. The implications for conservatism of this inverse relationship between presentism and individualism are apparently contradictory. Less individualism appears to imply less conservatism and greater openness to change. More presentism, meanwhile, decreases opportunity to critique external changes or to contemplate ones own. In this world, cracking the walls of privatism (Fullan, 1991) does not occur to challenge and deepen educators sense of moral purpose and their critical engagement with the purposes of governments and others. Rather, in change-obsessed, performance-driven organizations that value the nimble and the quick over the steady and the just, the new addictive presentism energizes peoples unquestioning and enthusiastic collaborative commitment to delivering more efficient, customized, or even personalized versions of other peoples change agendas. For the educators whom we studied in the RATL project, this can lead to a displacement of their moral purposes and an erosion of their capacity to develop transformational change agendas of their own.
In getting teachers and schools to engage in long-term transformation, educational leaders are therefore confronting much more than an organizational obstacle or a technical impediment to implementation. Contemporary educational change efforts are embedded in a sea of social, economic, and cultural conditions that persistently pull people back to, and endlessly immerse them in, short-term orientations. Even, and especially, in the most leading edge, laterally driven reform environments, the persistence of presentism is therefore no longer merely an endemic condition of teaching, nor even an unwanted adaptation to the jobs increasing demands. It is becoming an addictive affliction that increases technical effectiveness in the conservative present by mortgaging teachers professional development and childrens lifelong learning along with the dedicated struggle to improve it, far into an ever-receding future.
More than half a century ago, Ralph Tyler (1949) acknowledged that deriving the curriculum only from childrens interests and everyday lives was to court the temptations of immersion in a cult of presentism (p. 18). In education and educational policy, we must, as Emile Durkheim (1977) enjoined us, also remember that schools prepare the generations of the future. Our challenge therefore, is to live like little children no longer, absorbed in the present and oblivious to our future. It is living as morally responsible adults who attend to the present through giving ourselves to the future within an inclusive and inspiring vision and language of educational improvement that connects the learning of individuals to the lives of their communities and the future of their societies. If we can find and form such a vision beyond the immediate arithmetic of narrowed achievement gaps, there is a chance that we can bequeath to the next generation a world that will be worth inheriting.
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