“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
I was reminded of this phrase in 1967, when explaining to my mother (who was an elementary teacher) a new reading program we were introducing at our school. She looked at it closely, listened to my excitement and explanations, and said “I think I saw the same program in 1938.”
What I wish to suggest is that, in the education profession, we are not so much “condemned” to repeat the past as to simply repeat it, but with different terminology and different labels. Those of us who have had the joy of being in the profession for several decades have certainly seen the proverbial pendulum shift from initiative to initiative, from innovative practice to newly minted practice, and many of us have sat in the back of professional in-service and muttered “We’ve seen this game before.”
Much of the tendency to introduce the “new” is driven by political and economic forces. Public education is managed by state legislatures and governors -who force so-called change. As politicians they like being in the media trumpeting “new,” “reform-minded,” and “crisis fixing” ideas, not simply looking at what is working and further advancing and funding that practice. So too the producers of texts and media supporting instruction love new initiatives and curriculum which force schools to expend millions of dollars on new and updated material.
The danger of these swings and fads are that first, many are simply that – fads, and will die a blessedly quick death. However, there is a more long-lasting impact: teachers and staff members become numb to the latest changes, seeing them as simply “…another thing to do,” on top of their already heavy-laden plates.
School leaders serve best when they limit the amount of initiatives being implemented in a District or a single school. Teachers and staff can only handle so many “new” ideas and practices while still refining existing practices. A good administrator separates the wheat from the chaff, making sure that any new practice or initiative matches and enhances existing priorities and is in line with the core instructional practices of the school - much as a good classroom instructor limits the universe of a single lesson to workable goals.