School Change

When we talk about changing schools, everyone has a different reaction. Some view this as a futile attempt to change for no reason and some view it as the natural progression of the life of schools. When schools do change, we see the change as disruptive or natural, but we hardly ever see it in the light of how students feel about change. Keeping our students in mind during any change may be helpful in producing lasting change for the good.

Student Resistance

How do students view change in their lives? They don’t like it, so they resist. Students like regularity and who can blame them for liking that? They want to know that what will happen yesterday is what will happen today. Even the curriculum as it changes can be a problem for children. One day is the introduction of some concept, and the next day is the introduction of the next concept. Of course the two concepts make sense in the order they were introduced because the curriculum has been well thought out, but, students have to make room in their brains for the next idea piled onto the ideas from yesterday. This is hard work! Imagine yourself going to your kid’s school, sitting for six classes, engaging in english, math, social studies, science, language and the arts! Lots of ideas in just one day, not all of which you are sure of, so you resist. But you also accept some of them. And this is the duality of change.

Duality of Change

The duality of change is the tug of war between the new idea and your resistance to any new ideas. As soon as you hear it, you might like it, but as you think about it, you see the need to be cautious. Or you might dislike it, and then warm to it if it keeps making sense to you. But which ever way you think about it, the duality is your conservative side arguing with your progressive side. Your need for answers fights with your suspicion of answers. You search for confirming facts is in tension with your need to believe in something good. Your brain is reconciling this conflicting information and at any time giving you a logical score-card of where you stand on this change. And so it goes, you continue to search for answers and resist those answers. The duality of change.

Integrating Change

We are all natural learners. Your natural learning system includes a toleration for the duality of change process and a mechanism for resolving how to live with the ongoing process of change. Where people panic is thinking they will not ever have to change again, and yet, they do. Take a position on some political idea and you hope you are done. Well, new ideas confront you and you end up reconsidering your position. When you do, you integrate the new information with the old position and that results in a change of your thinking. The most natural learners tend to make room for new ideas and are constantly integrating new sources, new ideas and new ways of doing things. They integrate change.

The Art of Change

In my research on arts integration and school change, teachers see students integrate change. Within a larger study of the effect of arts integration on instructional improvement and student achievement in disadvantaged populations (Southworth, Gardiner, & Westervelt, 2017), a smaller study was undertaken to understand teacher opinion of arts integration. The new analysis on “What were your best successes in arts integration?” confirmed the original finding that arts integration teaching methodology as a school reform strategy improved student memory (Southworth et al., 2017), and also yielded new results that arts integration into core subjects increases student engagement, improves memory of core subject facts and facilitates skill acquisition.

Building Memory and Skill Acquistion

Not only is the effect of arts learning transfer a narrow and one-way description of the effect of arts integration research space, it disregards how students learn. They don’t just receive information, they evaluate it. The arts help them use an overlapping process (Southworth, Gardiner, & Westervelt, 2017) and they also allow students to dynamically interact with the curriculum material. Change for these students is not passive, but rather a toleration for the duality of change in ideas, a sifting and considering of new ideas on top of old ideas, and an acceptance to hold these ideas in mind as they support better skill acquisition and promote better classroom achievement. And our research shows that this is what teachers also know—that their students are mastering the duality of change and using it to make new decisions in successful ways.


  • Southworth, R., Gardiner, M., & Westervelt, N. (2017). Measuring the Effect of Arts Integration on Instructional Improvement and Academic Achievement in Disadvantaged Populations. New York: The SchoolWorks Lab, Inc.
Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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