Saturday, March 6, 2010

Hope Without Action is Just Wishful Thinking...

flickr CC image via emilydickinsonridesabmx

I first heard about Geoffrey Canada by reading a book called "Hope: How Triumphant Leaders Create the Future," by Andrew Razeghi. 

Since 1990 Canada has been president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, New York, an organization whose goal is to increase high school and college graduation rates among students in Harlem. His story is a remarkable example of the can-do attitude I believe is required to reform education, not as an end to a means, but rather a perpetual process that should never cease to evolve. I've been following Canada's speaking session at the ASCD 10 Conference in real-time via my Twitter friends (how amazing it is that real-time tweeting allows me this privilege!) and just as they did when I read Razeghi's book, his comments are resonating with me.

I designed a recent post I wrote (Why Is It Always About the Funding?) to ask the question of why reforming education seems to always come down to economics. The goal of the post is to solicit ideas from educators detailing how they believe we can improve education for free. At ASCD, Canada made this statement, "When it comes down to saving kids, we get tripped up by things like money, but we should have a plan for that." Indeed we should. I'm not so naive to believe that the education system can operate for free, but I am also of the opinion that much of the more meaningful actions we can take to reform education would cost nothing at all.

Canada also stated at the conference that, and I paraphrase, "the American education system is the equivalent of reaction to Hurricane Katrina; people waiting for a plan. We are the plan." Right on Geoffrey! I admire Canada's pragmatic approach to education reform, and I believe teachers make up a massive segment of the "we" he's referring to. I also believe he would define this plan as one connoting action. In Andrew Razeghi's book about hope, he contextualizes it as an action word. Did he ever get it right when he chose Geoffrey Canada as an example of this paradigm? It's time for teachers to adopt the same perspective and stop waiting for someone else's plan. We are the plan, and I assert that the best ideas to take action on within our plan cost nothing at all.

I'm getting some early feedback on this idea. Adam Burk, (@pushingupward) appears to agree. He responded to my blog post by saying "a positive school culture is created by positive attitudes. And last time I checked those were available for free." Amen to that! I've also received some great comments pertaining to the replacement of traditional forms in schools (i.e. paper textbooks to free online texts & paperless 1 to 1 teaching) as technology integration cost-saving measures. The ideas are out there, we simply need to share them. Teachers know how to reform education, and I think they also know that the education reform plan we personify is really a process as opposed to a plan, and one that can never stop.

Learning should be an organic, concentric process, not a linear one. The world surrounds us; it's not a point to point path, however, our education system is set up as a 'from here to there' journey- not a great reflection of what I will call natural learning. Teachers need to reflect on this concept, question their acceptance of the status quo inherent in some of the less-effective forms of traditional teaching and learning and stop waiting for someone else to tell them what to do.

Teachers- think, create, tweet, evolve, share, apply, synthesize... join a developing movement that doesn't even accept that there is an end to the means of education reform.

It's high time we adjust our attitudes toward how we do what we do, and begin taking our rightful place as perpetual pedagogical innovators.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

There's always another way...

I've been speaking with loads of people about education reform lately.

The topic of reforming education in North America is a popular one. Everyone's talking about education reform... in politics, economics, the social sciences, fine arts, health and wellness, science/technology, and doubtless other areas as well. I'm left wondering, no matter where education reform ends up, who's going to lead the change?

I'm reading The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change, by Andy Hargreaves and Dennis L. Shirley. The authors begin chapter one by stating,
We are entering an age of post-standardization in education. It may not look, smell or feel like it, but the augers of the new age have already arrived and are advancing with increasing speed.
I'm not finished with the book, but it appears to me that Hargreaves and Shirley have presented an excellent call-out to anyone concerned with the state of education, and who wants to be part of the process. Halfway through I'm thinking this is a book that every teacher should be reading, not just in North America, but throughout the world. Sustainable change results from bottom-up, grassroots tipping of ideas. Who better than teachers, hundreds of thousands of them, to lead the move into this post-standardization age in education? In order to do this well, teachers will need to get re-acquainted with the core beliefs and guiding principles that they've been suppressing for so long amidst the standardized system many have spent their entire careers working within.

Everyone, including me as a teacher and parent, has an opinion regarding why education needs to be reformed, and how it should be done. Teachers are embroiled in the debate to be sure, and it's disconcerting for many who have become so used to being led in transactional ways. There's no shortage of groupthink occurring within the education reform debate, and once a little dichotomous or dualistic thinking is mixed in... voila, we have a full-fledged battle on our hands. Teachers everywhere are looking for a side to belong to. What is particularly troublesome for me though, is not what's included in these conversations, but what's missing. There are so many agendas being promoted as part of the massive education reform debate, that it appears to me teachers have lost their foundational voice; the personal belief system that should be guiding them is missing in action.

As society enters a new age in education, teachers should be playing a paramount leadership role in the process. In order to do this effectively, they will have to think hard about what it is that inspired them to become a teacher in the first place, and how their preferred future in education might align with these long-lost values and ideologies. To this end, I thought I'd do my small part as an educator and espouse some of my personal beliefs about teaching and learning. I'm going to choose some of my more passionate beliefs and post them here over the next few weeks. I'm going to do this because I believe in public education, and I believe that teachers, as the most critical cogs in the machine, have very important voices to express in moving what we do to the next level. Perhaps my effort will resonate with other teachers and encourage them to express their voices as well, but if not, at least I've made my contribution.
Here goes... 
"I believe that effective education is about people, always. We must reach people on personal levels to foster relevance in what they learn."
In the era of standardization in education, what Hargreaves and Shirley refer to as the Second Way, students, and teachers became resources in a game of high-stakes targeting of externally prescribed goals and benchmarks relative to the teaching and learning process. Somewhere in the fervor to meet these external standards, I think teachers lost some of their humanity. Curriculum standards, testing standards, professional development standards, accreditation standards... perhaps necessary elements to high-quality education, but when coordinating supports and resources aren't in place to help meet the standards, stress and anxiety result. Teachers have felt both stress and anxiety in massive doses for a long time, and this can't be good for the kids in their classes.

I have maintained my view that the most direct path to a well-adjusted student who has a passion for learning is to support the teacher working with that student professionally and personally. Well-adjusted, well-prepared, and hard-working teachers are built through systems support that ensure affordable access to professional development, curriculum development support, and sincere appreciation for the effort they make every day within challenging learning environments. We need to reach teachers on an emotional level in order that they can do the same for their students.

I'm fond of this quote...
“An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” - Carl Jung
Enough said. Stay tuned.
Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog


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