- Sometimes educational practices need to change either because they are not working, because approaches to education have shifted to meet new goals or because technology has changed the landscape. But adapting to new ideas often requires that old notions be unlearned, Education Week reports.
- School leaders can support unlearning as part of professional development plans. Unlearning, however, is often difficult because changing long-held ideas is more personal for educators and can feel like an assault on their sense of identity.
- Letting go of old methods and ideas about education, discipline, and classroom management can increase innovation and lead to more student-centered approaches. Unlearning can also involve rejecting old biases and stereotypes that may have affected conscious or unconscious attitudes toward students.
There has been a strong emphasis on innovation in recent years, but that doesn't mean changing for change’s sake. Instead, constantly working to improve can lead to better teaching and more engaged students. Some forms of innovation are mandated by changing state or federal guidelines while others are made necessary by the growth of technology and its impact on the classroom. Some forms of “innovation” are actually a return to old practices, as this article noted in a story about a teacher who shifted her reading instruction to a “new” phonics-based model.
But change is not easy, especially when it requires giving up ideas that have become ingrained as habits and are part of one’s outlook on their profession or the way the world works. Unlearning is required before some of these innovative ideas can be fully implemented. Business leaders understand the concept of unlearning and it applies at least as much in an educational setting.
Though the notion of unlearning may seem odd to some educators, teachers expect unlearning from their students all the time. Part of education is stripping away old ideas and practices and implementing new approaches to teaching and discipline, and embracing new ideas about education.
Unlearning can apply to school leaders as well and is becoming an essential leadership quality. As school leaders model the ability to change and adapt for their teachers and staff, they will find more buy-in for the ideas they are trying to introduce. But the unlearning process takes time and a supportive environment and can be incorporated into an ongoing professional development program.
Russell L. Ackoff, author of “Redesigning the Future,” once said “The only thing that’s harder than starting something new, is stopping something old.” This is true of education practices that no longer work or never really worked effectively. Teachers sometimes become very skilled at ineffective practices and find them hard to let go. As Ackoff also noted, “The more efficient you are at doing the wrong thing, the wronger you become. It is much better to do the right thing wronger than the wrong thing righter. If you do the right thing wrong and correct it, you get better.”