I recently wrote a short article for the Japanese Association for Language Teaching's (JALT)
Mind, Brain, and Education special interest group (website here: Mind, Brain, and Education | JALT) focusing on COVID and organizational change. In their book The Psychology of Work and Organizations, Woods and West (2010) remark that organizations and the individuals that comprise them are in some ways like a single organism with an immune system ready to fight change. However, COVID’s arrival demanded an unprecedented need for educational innovation, instantly breaking through our defenses and forcing us to rapidly adapt to a new teaching environment. Although the struggles have been numerous, the key lesson I can take away from this year is how important it is to have an educational community focused on innovation and collaboration.
Normally, there are a lot of barriers to innovation and change that can cause it to be a slow process. For both individuals and institutions, resistance to change is common due to reasons such as fear of the unknown, peer pressure to keep the status quo, a climate of mistrust, organizational politics, and fear of failure (Oreg et al., 2011). However, with the switch to fully online classes, the pandemic caused what Jost (2015) refers to as an unfreezing (more like a shattering) of previously held attitudes to create real, immediate changes in our practices, whether we liked it or not! Undoubtedly, such a rapid transformation in the way we did our jobs was not without cost, and many educators reported higher levels of stress due to workload, family health concerns, and loss of control (MacIntyre et al., 2020). Yet, what also resulted was a beautiful example of knowledge sharing and cooperation that focused on a common goal—making the best possible learning experience for our students under the circumstances.
The new avenues that emerged for communication and collaboration are evidence of this. For instance, Online Teaching Japan (OTJ), a Facebook group allowing teachers to communicate ideas, technology advice, and how to best teach online, has grown to well over 2000 members since March 29th, 2020, and is only one of many such groups. Likewise, JALT and other communities painstakingly transformed to move conferences online in record time. Also, within my own department, levels of communication, classroom innovation, and knowledge sharing were at their highest ever with over 15,000 messages sent and nearly 600 files shared between our team of just 11 teachers via Slack, our online communication platform. Finally, not only did teachers collaborate, but they opened themselves up to genuine, well-meaning critiques in the process. In essence, the pandemic presented a clear, undeniable need for change that drove educators to seek new forums for communication, align visions, and open themselves up to new perspectives.
However, once the need to change is gone, what will become of our drive for frequent idea sharing and openness to others’ methods? Do not get me wrong, not all change is good; but unless you already have the perfect classroom (or even if you do), we should all have the inclination to seek and share knowledge without the spurs of a pandemic at our sides. Therefore, upon the eventual return to our pre-pandemic teaching routines let us not dismiss this year as time lost, but as the year when we learned how to collaborate through new channels with our fellow educators and implement new, innovative teaching practices that we can take with us moving forward into future semesters.
Jost, J. T. (2015). Resistance to change: A social psychological perspective. Social Research: An International Quarterly, 82(3), 607–636.
MacIntyre, P. D., Gregersen, T., & Mercer, S. (2020). Language teachers' coping strategies during the Covid-19 conversion to online teaching: Correlations with stress, wellbeing and negative emotions. System, 94, 102352.
Oreg, S., Vakola, M., & Armenakis, A. (2011). Change recipients’ reactions to organizational change: A 60-year review of quantitative studies. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47(4), 461-524.
Woods, S. A., & West, M. A. (2010). The psychology of work and organizations. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.