Sunday, September 14, 2014

Change Comes From Within

Change is a word that is thrown around in education circles more and more each day. We are made to think that education is in a downward spiral and that students are ill prepared to succeed in college and/or careers that require students to think and apply learning differently.  To some extent this might be true, mostly due to mandates from decision makers that do not, or have not ever, worked in a school.  This notion and the resulting rhetoric have become such that change initiatives have to be forced upon educators in a more or less top-down fashion if we are to produce a learner capable of succeeding in a ever-growing dynamic world. Compounding the issue are a myriad of directives passed down from Central Office that lack substance and do not have true impact on student learning and achievement. These commonly arrive in the form of internal professional development initiatives that chew up a great deal of time, but rarely achieve the types of systemic changes that are intended.  In these cases there is little to no embracement from those who are tasked with implementation. 

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The fact of the matter is education has to change, but how this is initiated should no longer be a contentious topic for discussion or debate. We all know that the structure and function of the majority of schools across the globe no longer meet the needs of students in the digital age. So as a knee-jerk reaction politicians and other stakeholders not affiliated with schools establish changes through policy while connecting this to the evaluation of job performance.  Enter the age of standardization and computerized assessments that will test the living daylights out of students in the United States over the course of their lifetime in K-12 education.  The fact that there is no valid research base to support these mandates just builds greater resentment for the change process. This is a great example of forced change. Forced change rarely works. One just has to refer to the history books to see how this has played out across the world since the beginning of time.  Where there still is forced change turmoil, economic instability, and mistrust run rampant. Is this the environment we want for our kids?

Many educators feel trapped by the pressures to conform to a system that focuses more on a numeric value as opposed to learning.  Learning should be fun for our kids. It should pull on their passions and creative desires while allowing them to choose how they want to demonstrate new knowledge and skills that have been acquired through authentic experiences.  What I describe is almost impossible to fathom for educators as schools have, and are being, transformed into new age testing factories chock full of scripted lessons to prepare students for the test. The focus on learning has been lost with full attention being given to numbers.  This does not have to be the case though. There is a quiet revolution that is gaining steam as more and more educators and students push back against the very policies and mandates that have been forced upon them.  You need to decide if it is worth it to conform or to carve out your own path instead to provide your students with the education and learning experiences they deserve. 

Meaningful change has and always will begin at the individual level.  This is also where it is sustained to the point that it becomes an embedded component of school and/or district culture.  It does not rely on someone being in a leadership position in a traditional sense, but more so on a desire to want to change professional practice. This is the point where all educators and students must realize that they have the capacity to lead change. School leaders need to remove barriers to the change process, remove the fear of failure, provide autonomy, and empower teachers to drive change at the classroom level.  

These successes can then be promoted within the school and district to serve as a catalyst for cultural transformation. The same holds true for both teachers and administrators when it comes to students, who happen to be our number one stakeholder group.  Schools are designed to meet the needs of our students, but if they are not given a seat at the table and allowed to be a focal point of change efforts that ultimately impact them then we are nothing more than hypocrites. Never underestimate the power that you have to make your school, district, and the entire education system better.  Be the change that you wish to see in education and others will follow.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for being brave enough to stand up for what you believe our children deserve. I love to see my own boys engaged in their education, not made to fit into a box that they don't fit into. We lose kids that way. They don't want to go to school, they don't retain the information and it's just not any fun. The district is lucky to have someone who cares about our kids as a whole person and how their education will shape them.