WARNING: This is going to be a vent. One you might need to hear- but a vent all the same- so if you do not want to have your mood spoiled, don’t read.
I tend to get more reflective this time of year. I also tend to push others to reflect more in my keynotes and workshops as well. These past couple weeks have been hard for me to process. The majority of folks I talked with feel victimized.
Ok- I’ll be honest- I am frustrated, annoyed, saddened, and a little angry by the buzz I have been getting from the educators (both teacher leaders and formal leaders) I’ve worked/learned with lately. My partner at Powerful Learning Practice, Will Richardson and I were discussing it over lunch the other day. How the victim sentiment amongst educators is growing. So many report feeling helpless in being able to evoke change in their classrooms and schools due to _____. (Testing pressure, budget cuts, lack of technology, lack of support, lack of time, you fill in the blank.)
While there may be some validity in each in every excuse, the truth is that they are just that â€” excuses. Look- change is not easy. It is always premature. It is hard work. Teaching to multiple choice tests is easy. Focusing on web tools as a means to putting a check in your change agent box is easy. Talking and talking and talking about the issues doesn’t equal change- Talk is easy.
Turning your classroom/school into a place where deep learning occurs and today’s learners’ needs are met- IS HARD.
I remember reading an article by Michael Fullen back in the early 90s as I was going through my Master’s program titled, Why Teachers Must Become Change Agents where he made the point that “teaching at its core is a moral profession.” I couldn’t agree more. The reason educational change is hard is because it involves a reculturing, an re-examination of our values and dispositions and a letting go of what so much of ourselves is vested in. Most of us went into education to change the world, to help kids, to make a difference and somewhere along the way we have lost sight of that moral purpose. I wonder why is that? Why have we bought into this idea that we are helpless against slowing the tide of negative change in education? In Fullen’s article he sites Farber’s work to highlight why we let go of our activism ideals:
In an extensive study of teacher burnout, Farber (1991) identifies the devastating effects of the growing “sense of inconsequentiality” that often accompanies the teacher’s career. Many teachers, says Farber, begin their careers “with a sense that their work is socially meaningful and will yield great personal satisfactions. ” This sense dissipates, however, as “the inevitable difficulties of teaching … interact with personal issues and vulnerabilities, as well as social pressure and values, to engender a sense of frustration and force a reassessment of the possibilities of the job and the investment one wants to make in it” (1991, p. 36).
Where have all the strong voices in education gone? Why is it we have been willing to trade talk for action? Why are educators not speaking out for positive change and advocating for those who can’t advocate for themselves? I was moved by Deborah Meier’s letter to Diane Ravitch when she talked about what first motivated her to consider teaching.
I think back to what excited me about teaching in K-12 schools. What are the Teach for America types excited about these days? What book? What idea? The first book I read that got me thinking that teaching might be a lifetime endeavor was John Holt’s firstâ€”How Children Fail (1964)â€”just when I began my own adventures as a parent and teacher. It was an eye-opening account of a colleague’s classroom in a good progressive private school. Like Teves, it led Holt to becoming an advocate of home-schooling. I regretted that, but I followed his work and learned a lot from the magazine he sponsored, Growing Without Schooling.
I had exactly the same experience when I read John Holt, except I decided to home school my kids while I got my teaching degree and then later opened a small charter school where I could apply his ideas and celebrate an unschooling approach to learning. Deborah continues to list other experiences that created passion in her to change the world through teaching. She ends that paragraph with this-
These constituted the heart of my professional development in the early “open classroom” communities that came into being during those years. A network of networks of teachers who were challenged to get to the bottom of “it,” and discovered “it” had no bottom. It was endlessly fascinatingâ€”to adults and kids.
Where can teachers find such collegiality today? Where are the institutions or publications that are built around deep respect for the intelligence and inventiveness of teachersâ€”and kids? Are they there, but I’m missing them? The teachers I run into seem instead overwhelmed with study groups and programs driven by contextually empty data. Garbage in, garbage out.
I screamed out loud as I read her post, “This is exactly what we are trying to develop in the network of educators that go through deep learning and reflection with us at PLP!” A true learning community. One willing to ask hard questions, to hold each other mutually accountable for what we are doing to kids, one willing to invest the time, to learn to use their voice, to question and push the status quo. We are 4000 educators strong and growing and our deepest hope is that these educators will breathe life into a system that needs changing. That they will rediscover their moral purpose for change.
What we try to do in the self-directed curriculum, in the community and network building, in the provocative questioning that PLP community leaders model, in the critical friends, team building and through the action research is create agents of change, activists who know how to use today’s tools in ways that result in transformational change. Champions who are willing to find their voice, build their network, chase their passions, and speak out in their schools, in the state, and in their world on behalf of kids. Educators who are powerful enough to realize they cannot give away what they do not own themselves. Educators who in turn enable their students to be empowered networkers and community builders with strong voices. Students who learn deeply while learning to be, rather than just constantly learning about. For example, look at this PLPeep’s posts (Shelley Wright) as she changes her classroom. I am learning so much from her as she boldly acts. There are many more stories some of which you can find on our blog. http://plpnetwork.com/blog
Stop whining. Do your research. Build your network. Find your tribe-your community. Then do something powerful to promote change. Sit down with other educators and figure this out and then share what you learn. Take the posture of a transparent learner. Be the example you want your students to become. Show them what a powerful learner does to make the world a better place.
Get past why you can’t and start with what you got. Bring your talent to the table to fill in the gap for what’s missing in your school. Persuade other educators in your school to do the same. Money a problem? Bring in a partnership business who has what you need. I once traded my lab space in the evenings to a local tech firm for computers and free attendance at the night classes for my poorest parents. Be creative and take the initative. Quit being a victim. Have an administrator who doesn’t get it? Then act like a teacher leader. Do you research and present it to him/her for what you want to change. Pull in people from your network to share what they have done with your ed leader. Ask to start small- with a pilot. You be the change. Figure out your personal vision for change in your school or classroom. Learn how to leverage the wisdom of the crowd. Build alliances. Use me-I’ll help.
This is the year for meaningful change that starts with you. Stop talking. Stop whining. Stop complaining. Stop feeling helpless and victimized. Are you going to be powerful or pitiful? Join me-join others let’s be powerful together on behalf of kids.
Latest posts by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach (see all)
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