CHAPTER FOUR: RESULTS OF THE STUDY
This chapter presents findings from the data collected during my action research project undertaken during the 1999-2000 school year. As a classroom teacher, I had become a reflective practitioner; when my role changed and I became a teacher consultant, I wanted to continue my reflective practice. Because I was taking the lead on a new curriculum project to integrate science and business in an interdisciplinary studies course in Agribusiness, my research is rooted in that course: "As a Teacher Consultant, how do I facilitate the change related to the design, development, and implementation of a new interdisciplinary course?" My data is based on my own narrative, as well as on conversations I recorded with the two teachers in the agribusiness pilot. The information in this chapter is presented under headings representative of themes emerging from the data.
The role of the curriculum consultant in this project mirrors the role of the consultant in any curriculum project: helping teachers to improve the learning of students. Specifically in this project, that meant finding ways I could assist two teachers to develop and implement a course to benefit students whose livelihood is closely connected to agribusiness, and working with elements in the community, school, and board to develop and implement the course. It is important to note that this study took place during the phase-in of Ontario's program for Secondary School Reform, Ontario Secondary Schools Grade 9 to 12: Program and Diploma Requirements (Ministry of Education, 1999b); along with assimilating the changes necessitated by the amalgamation of school boards, teachers faced new curriculum, assessment, and reporting procedures. Because of government-driven reforms, a political and pedagogical state of flux had an impact on the perspectives of both the teachers and me.
There are many skills and roles which teacher consultants have in projects, and based on the themes that emerged from my data, I found my job in this project to be tripartite. The first job was to share my knowledge of information surrounding both curriculum reform and this specific course. Second, I managed the organization of the course, finding text and other resources and liaising with community and GEDSB representatives in planning and advocating for this course. The final aspect of my role in this course was leadership. I began to understand that, as a teacher consultant, I worked in the realm of influence and found myself trying to motivate change by supporting the work of the classroom teachers: lending both an ear and a voice, validating their experiences, and helping them deliver the expectations of a course I had designed. These categories of work are reflective of the literature previously available regarding the role of the teacher consultant. Through the project, I discovered the emergence of many nuances of the job within those major categories, and it is here that the new information is manifested. In each of the three emerging theme categories, information manager, connecting theory to practice, and credibility, I am able to identify strengths and weaknesses in my practice; each area also comprises some areas of frustration, and all of these are presented in this chapter.
In my new role, I received information not always available to the classroom teacher. The information was actually voluminous and came at me from many sources: the board, ministry, and sometimes even the public. By the fall of 1999, the Ministry of Education had released many documents to support the new curriculum, Ontario Secondary Schools Grade 9 to 12: Program and Diploma Requirements (1999b), curriculum documents and profiles for all Grade 9 courses, assessment and reporting documents, special education guidelines, Choices Into Action policy document (1999a). I realized that I was gaining knowledge that had to be interpreted and shared: "Add on some of the board's Good Program documents and directions to schools, and I'm responsible for a significant amount of information that teachers and schools need to wrap their minds around" (Journal, September 9, 1999). As a teacher consultant, I needed to decide what information best served teachers and schools and to be able to simplify, clarify, and move the information from the theoretical to the practical.
Very early in this project, I understood that information managers affect the implementation and development of every new program in a school system. Because I was interested in developing the interdisciplinary studies course in agribusiness as a classroom teacher, I began to research the protocol for instituting new courses within the province as well as in our board. Initially, I believed that IDS courses would fall into the category oflocally developed courses, which also came into usage in the policy document Ontario Secondary Schools Grade 9 to 12: Program and Diploma Requirements (Ministry of Education, 1999b). However, in the spring and fall of 1999, the course guidelines for locally developed courses had been released for only grades 9 and 10 (p. 43). Similarly, while the Ministry of Education referred to interdisciplinary studies courses in its Ontario Secondary Schools Grade 9 to 12: Program and Diploma Requirements (p. 49), the promised curriculum document was not released until the spring of 2002. As a result, much of my research regarding the design of this new course consisted of e-mail correspondence with ministry and board representatives. Additionally, I was trying to use the Ontario Electronic Curriculum Planner to write the course, but the software did not allow users to input new expectation sets.
Still 2 years ahead of implementation of the grade 11 curriculum, Ministry of Education representatives were not definitive in their responses to my questions about IDS and Locally Developed Course requirements (E-mail, December 14, 1999). This exemplifies Senge's (1999) ideas about authority-driven change and learning-driven change. In an authority-driven change like the IDS movement, the creator of the idea is fully responsible for implementation and must push the effort to ensure success. Conversely, in learning-driven change,
"participants would articulate the goals they would like to achieve, experiment with new projects and initiatives, learn from their successes and mistakes, and talk with each other, candidly and openly, about the results. This would build commitment through participation and action" (p. 41).
The teachers and I were interested in developing and delivering an authentic-learning program that met board and ministry requirements, but because the documents had not been completed, both the board and the ministry were unable to support us in our quest. In this instance, the teachers and I were looking for the "rules" to implement an IDS course when they were not available on any level. Because no one in an authority position at the board or the Ministry of Education could supply the information we sought, Doug, Rob, and I moved toward a learning-driven model of change.
We had no curriculum to follow, nothing like the course profiles that have been provided for new courses in recent years. We wrote an outline of our topics and tried to find connections for integration where we could. Most of this work was not prescriptive, and in many instances, Doug, Rob, and I brainstormed our ideas together and then went our separate ways to implement them. We were all learning and teaching on the fly, and this is obvious in Rob's words in the member check:
Should the course have continued into a second round, I believe that after the initial scramble of creating the course on the fly and securing rudimentary materials, we would have had more time and energy, and a better perspective on what we were doing. Reflection at that point would have been more beneficial and appropriate. We would have identified the points of overlap (for instance the genetics article/project) which we could exploit to foster closer integration. We would have reviewed and identified those topics or exercises that worked, and those that did not work. (e-mail, January 9, 2003)
The scramble Rob refers to is exactly the way our planning felt while the students were in the classes, and while this was somewhat outside of my comfort zone, it was also exciting to think that we may be on the cutting edge of curriculum creation.
An even greater challenge I faced in the implementation and support of the agribusiness teachers was the management of information. The decision of what information would serve the needs of the teachers involved in the Agribusiness course was daunting. I had to integrate policy and practice within the context of the project while being sensitive to the needs of the teachers. For me, I recognized the need to create and share knowledge. For teachers involved in a new initiative, the pace of learning leaves little time to ponder the philosophy involved in curriculum integration.
As the information manager for this project, I was frequently working within and through the ministry's and board's curriculum policies. It was difficult to gain clear information about protocols and processes, and I found personnel at both levels evasive when pushed for firm details.
As a teacher consultant, part of my job is to navigate the organizational structures of education. These exist at the ministry, board, and school levels. Each level of organization has its own protocol and its own frustrations, and it was not until I became a consultant assisting in the implementation the IDS course in agribusiness that I fully understood the webs of organization that must be unravelled for each and every project. My journal and communication logs consist of e-mails and telephone messages from personnel at many organizational levels of both my board and the Ministry of Education. The messages demonstrate that my requests were most often handled by the reader pressing the "forward" button on the e-mail browser rather than what I really needed: someone with the answers to press "reply."
In addition to being unable to navigate the ministry's curriculum development organization, I found some challenges in working through our board's organizational structure. I wanted to participate on a board committee on secondary curriculum, but felt "passed along" from a superintendent to a principal leader and finally program coordinator (Journal, February 7, 1999). For the classroom teachers, each telephone contact was difficult. Classrooms are not equipped with telephones, calls often came during class time when it was impossible to leave the students, and the curriculum staff were dealing with many issues and questions other than mine. When every partner's time is at a premium, inconvenient communication could mean the downfall of a project.
As the information manager in this project, I clearly felt challenges in three areas. First, getting, interpreting, and sharing information among all the stakeholders was always a scramble. Second, there was a distinct lack of support from the Ministry of Education to move forward with interdisciplinary studies. Indeed, it was difficult even to get seminal information which could have facilitated the inception of this course. Finally, a lack of time for development and planning dogged me and the participants over the course of the whole project.
Connecting Theory and Practice
As my knowledge and understanding of curriculum grew, I realized that there was much to share with the agribusiness teachers. I wanted to help Rob and Doug explore new aspects of their practice and synthesize new methods of subject delivery, and I knew this would be a challenge: "I have been thinking regularly about changes I can implement that won't burden the teachers but will move the course to greater levels of integration" (Journal, September 27, 1999). I fully believed that by sharing professional reading and dialogue with Doug and Rob, I could help them to move toward better practice: "I think this is crucial to moving from a parallel or multidiscipline model to greater integratedness" (Journal, September 27, 1999).
Both Doug and Rob were most concerned with the practicalities of their teaching assignments, including IDS agribusiness, on a day-to-day basis (Interview transcript, September 22, 1999). Scrambling with the administrative minutiae of school startup, they were not eager to advance their professional knowledge by reading theoretical articles; in fact, on October 21, 1999, at a meeting during which we had agreed to discuss Drake's article, only Rob had completed the reading, and in the taped interview of October 21, he expressed concerns about moving his teaching style away from a more traditional approach:
Again, to achieve higher integration we would have to change the course drastically from this model. Within the Susan Drake concepts we would need major changes. We would have to move to a more projects-based thing, and that is possible but it takes a large amount of resources. (Interview Transcript, October 21,1999)
Rob found that creating authentic learning tasks in interdisciplinary courses like Agribusiness needed considerable amounts of expertise and time. Part of my mandate was to write a proposal for a locally developed course in agribusiness, but it was obvious from Rob's conversation that he didn't feel he had enough of either expertise or time to contribute to the formal conclusion of the project. My field notes record his hesitation: "I mentioned developing an assessment model to Rob, and I can see that the teaching of the class alone is enough. He is really shying away from being involved in the actual curriculum writing" (Field Notes, December 3, 1999).
Rob's interview presented his view of an attempt to increase integration through an agribusiness-related article he'd read:
I was reading the paper an came across and article on the genetic alterations of crops....it's getting very hot and timely for us. I said, "Here you have the perfect integration...the science is providing the application and the ability and the economics providing a global impetus and the push." And then he told me he already assigned a web research project, so I thought, "Okay, I'm going to do that in the marketing part where it fits right into the whole thing of offering a political, economic, and cultural societal thing." (Interview Transcript, October 21, 1999)
Rob recognized the missed opportunity to integrate through this article, but determined to use it on his own, and justified that Doug's web project on genetic engineering in agriculture would serve to consolidate student learning about the business aspects of this topic: "That will be good, and that is another nice, integrated section...so they are going to be doing it in both the sections" (Interview transcript, October 21, 1999). Both teachers identified good opportunities for greater integration in their conversations with me but didn't make these strong connections between themselves.
The project required new pedagogy: an exploration of the integration of subject disciplines, variety and accountability in assessment, and the implementation of reflective practice through an action research project as a means to facilitate change. While I recognized that I did not have all the answers about what exactly an interdisciplinary course at secondary school level looked like, because of my master's courses I had some background on the topic of interdisciplinary studies, which neither Doug nor Rob had. What they did bring to the course, however, was experience in their respective subject disciplines as well as real-life agricultural experience (Teacher Surveys, June 15, 2002). To help get them started with the course, I produced a draft course outline for them to follow. As the teachers began to work with the students in the IDS course, I felt that my most pressing issue as the curriculum leader was how to challenge their past practices and move them to look at integration of subject disciplines. This is reflected in my interview questions: I repeatedly asked teachers to give specific examples of integration they'd recently used. I also asked them to identify changes that would help move the course to greater integration of disciplines (Interview Transcripts, September 22, 1999, October 21, 1999).
The challenge was to not just have two teachers teaching the science and business components of agriculture separate from each other, but to encourage them to make connections for themselves and their students. I attempted to provide leadership for integration by supplementing the teachers' knowledge about interdisciplinary studies. I gave both teachers Chapter 1 of Susan Drake's book, Creating Integrated Curriculum: Proven Ways to Increase Student Learning (1998). My hope was that they would read the first chapter and have a good introduction to the concept of integration which would provide an excellent talking point for our next meeting (Field Notes, September 28, 1999). The following month, I was disappointed to discover that only Rob had read the chapter; Doug said he hadn't had time (Field Notes, October 7, 1999). Rob was clearly beginning to see how integration could work in the IDS agribusiness course. He was thinking about using case studies across the two periods to integrate science and business:
Cases ...Like I have been looking for books, audio visual aids that again might come across your desk or you might be aware of. I've been trying to think of areas and ways of integration. Sometimes it is hard because the technology is a science aspect, and it has ramifications for the business aspect; for example the costs of getting into technology. Conservation may be a topic. Why do we bother with conservation? Why would we spend money on that? We need areas where we can find the connections. Last night I saw two articles, one from the Woodstock area, "Cows and Water Beds." It was about this whole idea of the physiology of the cows and the costs of meeting these needs. Now, in marketing we have talked about strategies and you have to look at both the political and economic end of things. So they are talking about molecular farming now. There is a little article and I clipped it out. Again I'm not sure how we link it closer.
Rob was obviously considering ways to make integration greater in the course.
His teaching partner, Doug, had more life and work experience in the farm industry and made connections between science and business in a very natural, rather than academic way. For example, on a field trip to Woodstock Fair, Doug was able to make connections for students in the context of a live agricultural showcase (Taped Interview, September 21, 1999). However, Doug was not as committed to learning about integration from the readings I'd provided. After I asked both Rob and Doug to read three more chapters from Drake's book dealing with various models of integration, Doug demonstrated his minimal interest in reading the theory. He questioned the value of the reading and was skeptical about accepting the theories of an academic who was not an active classroom teacher (Taped Interview, October 21, 1999).
Both teachers were beginning to see the interdisciplinary connections from different perspectives. Their comfort with integration was on a continuum; consequently, at times they both made seamless connections between science and business while at other times they both struggled. I felt that providing Doug and Rob with the readings was not developing their understanding of integration as I had hoped it would. I discontinued sharing readings with them, preferring the line of least resistance to trying to coax them to spend time doing something they could not buy into (Journal, November 1, 1999). I recognized the irony in Doug's assessment of the course progress: "I'm way behind my original plan for the curriculum coverage. To me, before we can do the practical stuff like the soil project, we need to do the academic stuff" (Taped Interview, October 21, 1999).
Leading these two teachers in developing a philosophical framework presented a large challenge. In discussions they seemed to get the idea of connections they could make with students, but moving them into action was a struggle. Doug even went so far as to say "the name of the course is the connection, Agribusiness. It hangs over the course all the time" (Taped Interview, October 21, 1999). Doug saw the students' personal experience as another factor in favour of integration. They came mostly from family farms, and Doug noted that he could draw on their personal experience to help illustrate things like "field erosion and soil saturation when it rains" (Taped Interview, October 21, 1999). He recognized that the IDS course in agribusiness connected closely to the students' lives, but he was looking for a premade link to include both science and business in order to apply the theory of interdisciplinary studies to his practice: "It would be kind of neat if there was a packaged program somewhere. Like SimFarms where you need some knowledge about soils, crops, or disease, and then some accounting business materials to maximize the returns" (Taped Interview, October 21, 1999).
New to the role of consultant, I was quite keen to try meshing the theory of integrated studies with the practice, and I worked hard to help Rob and Doug grow matching enthusiasm. This was ultimately a source of frustration for me. The teachers' first priority appeared to be coverage of course content on a day-to-day basis, choosing to place the more holistic approach associated with curriculum integration aside. When pressed with time and resource limitations, the tendency was to fall back on past practices. Because of timetable restrictions in concert with their other personal and professional obligations, I had to meet with Rob and Doug individually to discuss their progress with the course. Both teachers indicated that while they had some ideas about integrating the courses in a more holistic way, time and energy didn't allow that to actually come into practice. In an interview with Doug, he spoke about the possibility of a group project:
I like the idea of maybe a group project in which you use both courses. Set up a farming situation, a business...seek out in my end the feasibility study of the soil, the type of equipment you need. Labour force and business aspects would come in [business], looking for the market and cost of getting it to market, and the payback periods, and depreciation on the equipment. Because of this sort of complexity you really need both teachers working together to understand the complexity. That's a challenge. (Interview Transcript, September 22, 1999)
I saw this as a good idea and asked him about the challenges with his idea. His response is very telling: "Rob and I have never gotten together. We are both so busy in our own realms. I have been so busy with the headship, I just didn't have time" (Interview Transcript, September 22, 1999).
My journal, field notes, and interview transcripts reference Rob's and Doug's understanding of integration. However, they were most comfortable in teaching their separate subject disciplines overlaid with an agricultural theme approach. Because each teacher was timetabled so that his preparation period coincided with when the other was teaching the course, they tended not to have time to coplan for greater connections. I recognized this problem and made an attempt to bring them together on a couple of occasions. During one lunch meeting, Rob, Doug, and I spent about 30 minutes at a local restaurant discussing the IDS course in agribusiness. Our discussions were cursory, with both teachers indicating that the students enjoyed the course and that generally things were going well (Field Notes, October 14, 1999). On another occasion, I used the project budget to pay for release time so I could meet with the two teachers together. We met in the Business Office at the school, and as we worked on our report about the IDS course, Rob was interrupted several times to help other teachers with computer issues. This was frustrating to me: "I would have liked more dialogue between the two parts to have happened, but unfortunately, Rob had to do IT stuff in the middle of our project. This sort of ticked me off because we were spending money to release them for the project, not to wander off in the school" (Field Notes, January 21, 2000). My next experience with releasing teachers in another project was informed by this experience. I insisted that our meeting be held off campus to minimize interruptions (Journal, March 28, 2000).
One of the frustrations in linking theory and practice was essentially a funding issue. It became a challenge to assist teachers in amalgamating their theory and practice because that kind of synthesis takes time, and time is money. If trying to discover the requirements for developing a new course was difficult, obtaining the funding to do so seemed almost impossible. The board supported new initiatives in education with funding programs, and in February, 1999, I completed a proposal and presented it to Program Council, a committee of supervisory officers, program coordinators, and administrators, whose function is to review programs for schools. They supported my proposal, and I was under the impression that we would have financial support for the project, but no formal arrangements for the transfer of funds were made. Determined to have financial support for the IDS course in agribusiness, I submitted a proposal to our Educational Change Fund (Appendix B) in May of 1999. Again, this proposal was verbally supported by the Change Fund Committee, but real dollar funding continued to dog the development of this course through the fall of 1999. In fact, the teachers began teaching the class without resources, including texts or equipment, both of which would fit my criterion of being sustainable commodities necessary for the long-term run of the course (Journal, September 22, 1999). Better access to funds earlier in the project and greater understanding of creative ways to carve time out of our budget would have helped me free the teachers from their school responsibilities and foster a stronger understanding of integration in this context.
Linking theory and practice was a big challenge, but I feel that I made some progress in the day-to-day running of the project. My greatest frustration as this theme emerged was at the end of the project. My role as educational leader was essentially complete upon the submission of the course outline for the IDS agribusiness course to our Superintendent of Curriculum. When this was forwarded to the Ministry of Education for approval, the proposal was denied because the provincial documents governing IDS courses had not yet been created. I knew I had learned a lot about IDS implementation, but I felt a bit disconnected from the course itself because I had been only a sporadic visitor to the classes. In the end, I felt deflated that my program was not approved because the Ministry of Education wasn't ready. My superintendent and our principal were ready, I was ready, Doug and Rob were ready, our students were ready. It was a real disappointment that the project ended up on the shelf because in terms of provincial IDS course design, this project was ahead of its time (Journal, March 27, 2000). I knew that I had linked the theory and practice of this course for the first-round delivery and that I had gained considerable knowledge and understanding of ways to facilitate the development and delivery of an IDS course. It was frustrating that the Ministry was not ready to link its theory to living practice.
Connecting the theory to practice in this project was a considerable challenge. Because the teachers were essentially piloting my project, their commitment was not as strong as it might have been for a project of their own initiative. They were seasoned veterans with good teaching repertoires, and consequently, somewhat reluctant to change. Doug and Rob found it difficult to value the theory of interdisciplinary education, and due to heavy time commitments in their professional and personal lives, did not make it a priority to develop many connections between theory and practice. Finally, both Rob and Doug recognized their strengths in front of their students but were not very confident with the larger considerations for this project, and their self-doubt eventually inhibited the potential of this interdisciplinary studies course.
Teacher consultants are asked to submit a goal package at the first of each year, and my first goal package demonstrates evidence of the focus I chose (Appendix A). Teachers and schools have many preconceived notions of what a consultant's role is and is not. The nature of the role, with its large breadth and scope leads to a phenomenon which I can best describe as "pop in--pop out." At any given time, I found myself arriving at a site or meeting, getting down to business, and then hurrying on to another focus. Without a clear vision and a strong sense of purpose, you can see how one might become ineffective at the job. The consultant is a servant of many masters. In our board, consultants are instructed to make regular visits to all of the schools under one's jurisdiction. From a teacher's perspective, the intermittent visits of the consultant create misunderstandings and misconceptions of what consultants do.
On the Friday of my first week in the role, I ate lunch at a school where I had previously taught. My journal entry alludes to the teachers' lack of understanding about my new role: "I ... managed to spread the word about my role and the board. It was quite apparent that the communication line to teachers about me and my role is not too good. I definitely need to work at this in my first few months" (Journal, September 10, 1999).
I also discovered that moving into the role changed the way teachers perceived me. From June 30 to the first days of school in September 1999 I really had not changed in terms of knowledge or power, but when I returned to visit my school that fall, people greeted me differently than when I was a teacher. They would often ask what my work times were like through the summer. Many of our colleagues do not realize that consultants are classroom teachers working at a system level and as such still members of the same federations with the same expectations regarding attendance and performance (Journal, September 9, 1999). At the time, I was mystified that my colleagues would see me in a different light or relate to me differently than they had when I worked in the same building where they worked. In retrospect, I see that their perception of me had shifted and that they questioned my motives for wanting to expand my experience. Doug continually questioned what I needed the teachers to do to make sure my bases were covered, and this made me feel that he saw the project as my stairway to career advancement: "I just think Doug believes I'm in this for myself; nothing could be farther from the truth--it's all about the kids and what they need and deserve" (Journal, November 17,1999).
Long before Doug's overt references to my motives, I recognized that it was important to establish and build credibility with the teachers I was hired to help. I recall my first staff meeting presentation; my journal entry speaks of the teachers' reluctance to accept a consultant's words: "I attended a staff meeting and talked for about 10 minutes on some of the happenings and invited teachers to call me. I discussed some of the computer initiatives like the media inservice and the report card. The reception by staff was all stares and no response. Looked quite shell shocked. Not really sure if it is me or the typical end-of-the-day staff meeting where all that goes through a teacher's mind is 'get this over,' 'Yeah, yeah, who cares!!!' I definitely have my work cut out for me" (Journal, September 21, 1999). I began to realize that it was a big task to present myself as a teacher consultant, particularly among my closest teaching peers. It was in this realization that I began to transform from a teacher to a teacher consultant. This transformation had a profound impact on my action research project. I would no longer be the teacher practitioner developing and delivering the course; rather, I would become a resource person whose function was to facilitate the design and delivery of a new course in agribusiness.
As a teacher, I found it difficult to understand the seeming indifference of support staff to my great new idea (Journal, February 14, 1999). However, as a teacher consultant in the fall of 1999, I completely understood how constant multitasking could make support staff seem less than enthusiastic. My new position as a teacher consultant made liaison with the board curriculum team much easier; at the same time, my experience from the previous spring underlined my need to be accessible to teachers and to understand the confines of their positions when contacting them for support. Consequently, my journal and field notes indicate that I used telephone communication as little as possible and relied heavily on school visits and e-mails with the teachers. The new teacher consultant has the best opportunity to use a "double lens," seeing the organizational structure's requirements, but understanding the frustrations they can bring to front-line educators.
Because the teachers neither see nor understand the full spectrum of the consultant's work, they cannot fully value the consultant's role in a project. Certainly, some of my frustrations in the early stages of this project when I was the department head taught me about the relationships consultants must build with teachers in this type of project. To build credibility, I responded to the teachers' needs in a timely way whenever possible; I took their gibes about my "ambition" with a grain of salt, and I tried to support them in any way they needed. Still, in spite of my best attempts at building professionalcredibility, my motives continued to be questioned. Doug's e-mail response to my member check documents this clearly: "As I recall, (it was awhile ago) your story is consistant [sic] with the facts. (Be kind to me when you become a superintendent of Education)" (e-mail January 5, 2003).
Again, I faced several frustrations that made an impact on my perception of my credibility with Doug and Rob, and many of these were money related. I was very uncomfortable with the funding. The lack of tangible financial support for this project was affecting the overall health of the IDS agribusiness program (Journal, October 1, 1999). My first indication about the amount of funding we would actually receive did not come until October 5, when a superintendent mentioned informally that the proposal was accepted but that the full amount requested would not be distributed. On October 14, 1999, I received formal approval of my proposal for up to $4,000 however it was not until December 1, 1999, 3 full months after the start of the course, that the account number and money were available to us (Journal, December 1, 1999). Clearly, funding was a source of frustration both for teachers and for me. They scrounged resources where they could. Not knowing how to push buttons to get the money flowing, I tried to maintain credibility.
Spending was also one source of frustration in my dealings with the teachers of the IDS course. In discussions with Doug, I specifically stated that money should be spent on the sustainability of the course--materials and resources to support the long run (Journal, October 14). He seemed to agree with this theory; in practice, however, he seemed not to value sustainability, using some of the funds to pay for transportation and admission fees for a class field trip (Journal, December 1, 1999). Because of the delay in actual funding, I felt that I had lost credibility with Doug and Rob; consequently, I chose not to discuss their choices in spending course funds in this way. My frustration in trying to be effective within the organizational structure of the project shows in my journal: "Lately I have found that my building relationships has been somewhat destroyed by outside forces. I try to keep a positive outlook...but it is hard and makes me look like a party liner. I will support staff the best I can by helping them find a way to get things done (Journal, November 5, 1999).
Rob's finding of relevant articles in newspapers and Doug's ability to connect the experiences of students to topics studied meant they had much to offer to the project and each other. Unfortunately, they were unable or unwilling to find time to make connections with each other at school, and thus delivery of the program occurred mostly in a disconnected fashion, with each teacher teaching topics under his own discipline and weaving bits of the other discipline in now and then. The timetabling of the classes so that each teacher's preparation period was at the time the other was teaching the course made communication difficult, and the added responsibilities of the teachers, both of whom were department heads, made after-hour-meetings challenging. As a support person, I saw the difficulty these two teachers were having in meeting with each other and tried to create opportunities for sharing. Ultimately, I realize that more time for the teachers to work together, including a common preparation period and release time for development of the course of study, assessment items, and resources, would have made their collaboration much easier. As a new consultant, I was unaware that I could use my budget to provide supply teacher coverage for teachers working on a curriculum project. Because I have since used my funds to release teachers from classroom duties, I am confident that this change alone would have fostered professional conversation and facilitated greater integration of subject disciplines by these two colleagues over the course of the semester.
Classroom teachers do not always understand the role of the teacher consultants whose job is to support them. They are skeptical of the consultants, who seem to be agents of the board of education rather than facilitators of classroom practice. Secondary teachers are used to working with and for department heads but have not had much interaction with support staff from outside the school. One of the greatest affronts to my credibility came when a former colleague questioned my motives in moving from department headship to a teacher consultancy. My credibility as an educator is important to me and, whatever my role, I strive to be effective and supportive of my students and colleagues.
In this chapter data collected during the action research were analyzed and interpreted. Working with two teachers of the IDS course in agribusiness and reflecting on our conversations and correspondence, I learned about how to facilitate a course from the perspective of a new consultant. Three main aspects emerged: managing information, connecting theory and practice, and credibility.
First, I had to learn about the ways to gather information for a specific project. Each level of administration has its own peculiarities, and knowing how to understand, sidestep, or meet these head on is a skill that can help any consultant to get business done. Additionally, it was important to be able to reduce and select pertinent information. The consultant acts as something of a filter in this kind of project and must be able to give the teachers enough material without inundating them with superfluous paper or ideas. It is also useful to identify and compartmentalize the organizational barriers that frustrate a consultant in this kind of project. Because a project grows out of the individual's professional bent, not all parties are interested in facilitating the development of that project; it is easy to become frustrated when one's innovations are not met with resounding enthusiasm by others. As information managers, teacher consultants must work through a scramble to share a variety of materials with the teachers they serve. Teacher consultants in new projects often face a lack of support from the policy-makers in government. Finally, in sharing information to develop and support programs for teachers and students, teacher consultants are slaves to time, the harshest master of all.
A second theme to emerge was connecting theory to practice. The new teacher consultant feels refreshed because of moving from the requirement to cover curriculum expectations to looking at the big picture of education. It is a luxury to have both the time and company to discuss trends and philosophies in education and, with such discussion, expand one's facility in understanding education as a whole. Subject specialists in a secondary school are very keen to teach and prioritize their subjects, but less inclined to look at or value general themes and theories in education or to find ways to work with other teachers in an integrated way. Helping the teachers see the reasons for changing their practice is very important for the teacher consultant. Without a link between theory and practice, teachers are like math students using an algorithm with no real understanding of the reasons it works. Furthermore, unclear rationale can lead to misunderstandings about the need and motive for change and improvement.
In connecting the theory to practice, a lack of time and funding proved to be real and difficult challenges for all partners in this project. The teachers were somewhat hesitant to change their practice, and this was manifested in their self-doubt, which exacerbated the difficulty I experienced in leading them to connect theory and practice in delivering this new course.
Third, credibility is a first-line challenge for a new teacher consultant. Teachers are focused on their work in their classrooms, and for them the out-of-sight consultant is also out of mind. Teachers are also skeptical that consultants are building their own careers by exploiting teachers. The consultant has to build a relationship with each teacher he works with, and this means providing support in a timely, open fashion. The consultant has no real authority--either upward or downward--and this can be problematic when facilitating a project. The consultant is at the whim of whatever committees operate the purse- and apron-strings of the project, and when these are tangled, shortened, or cut, the consultant's credibility is directly affected.
In this project, to help teachers implement the IDS agribusiness course, the consultant's role consisted of information management and connecting theory and practice through a philosophical framework. It also required me to build a strong professional relationship in order to establish credibility with my colleagues, the teachers in this project. As a new consultant, I found that the IDS project offered me many growth opportunities, and with the themes emerging from my data, I developed stronger skills and a better ability to facilitate teachers' involvement in other projects.
To be better prepared for this role, there are several suggestions I could offer other newly appointed consultants, based on my research findings. These will be discussed in the next chapter.