Monthly Archives: July 2010

Invite a Skeptic to the Reform Symposium

All of this social networking is starting to pay off for everyone! For the past month I have been working with some really amazing educators to put together a free summer conference. I have never met any of these amazing people (Shelly Terrell, Jason Bedell, & Kelly Tenkely), yet this was one of the most successful collaborations I have ever been a part of. None of use have received any reward for the time we have put into planning the event, monetary reward that is, but somehow this has been an incredibly rewarding experience. This seeming paradox lends credence to the argument Daniel Pink makes in Drive, that money isn’t a very good motivator when it comes to intellectual endeavors.

Working on the Symposium has been an empowering experience. It is empowering because by harvesting the power of connections, and everyone’s desire to improve education we can all get together for summer professional development. No one is paying anyone, no one is getting paid. Many educational conferences have costs that are so high that we cannot attend, and what do we see when we get there….great educators talking about what they are doing in the classroom.

So in the words of The Monkees, I’m a believer. PLNs work! Making connections works! I suspect many of you are nodding your heads right now, that’s because most of you believe too. So here is your charge: invite a skeptic to the Reform Symposium. Not just a doubter, a skeptic. Offer to have them attend a session with you. Sit right next to them, help them click the right links. Make bargains to get them to agree. When it is over tell them about PLNs and help them sign up for Twitter and follow up with them over the year. Do all this because if you can convince a skeptic about the power of connections that is powerful, and that skeptic will talk to other skeptics, and this movement will grow. That is how reform will happen.

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Call to Arms on School Reform

I felt so strongly about the topic of this week’s (7/6/10) #edchat that I needed two days to collect my thoughts. This week’s #edchat centered around what we as educators can do to move from discussion of educational reform to action. I have been participating in #edchat since November and this is unequivocally the most important topic that has ever been covered. Many participants in the chat answered the question of what we can do to enact substantive change by saying that they were already doing it in their classrooms, meaning that they are taking the things discussed on #edchat and other social forums and applying them to their teaching. This tactic employs a trickle down strategy and hypothesizes that simply by doing it in their classrooms others will eventually take note and decide to change themselves. This strategy does not work and we know it. You don’t have to look any further than certain classrooms in your own building. There are teachers who will NEVER change their teaching styles no matter how big the smiles are on the students exiting our rooms. To employ this strategy to reform is to put your head in the sand as that student exits your room and enters the other room down the hall. This illustration needs to be multiplied by ten thousand to get the picture around the country. There are some schools where there are no teachers attempting to change the system by example. What happens to the students that happen to reside in that district? On a building level really reform has absolutely no prayer of succeeding if the administration is not on board. Only administrators can force wholesale, building level change. Take what some of the things administrators who particpate in #edchat are doing, Patrick Larkin (@bhsprincipal), Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Deron Durflinger (@DeronDurflinger) for example. Reform is happening at their schools. But what if the administrators are content with the status quo, what then? Will they be influenced by the teacher in room 115 who’s students are totally engaged? Maybe. But maybe simply isn’t good enough anymore. There are students getting a simply terrible education in this country waiting for bad teachers to take notice of the good ones, and we can’t wait any more.

Another tweet that kept popping up was that we needed to have specific reforms in mind, not just some abstract pipe dream of the perfect school. This idea seems to fly in the face of the other idea. It suggest that there is in fact a power higher than the teacher out there that needs to be convinced that reform is needed, and that it is happening. Never the less here is my list of essential education reforms:

  1. Deemphasize so-called teacher accountability. Teachers are accountable. They know it. Rather than having teachers afraid for their lives they could focus on innovation.
  2. Deemphasize standardized testing in favor of more authentic measures of learning, which of course, we know are different not standardized.
  3. Give students more autonomy over their own learning.
  4. Emphasize skills like critical thinking, communication, and problem solving. So that students will be able to deal with problems that don’t exist.

A critique often leveled at the #edchat group is that it is simply an echo chamber where everyone involved is simply voicing the same opinion in a different way, preaching to the choir if you will. Although there is an element of truth to this I don’t think this is such a criticism. All of us discovered #edchat in the same way, we were hungry to be in control of our own learning, just as our students are and we went looking. Since we are like minded we can speak with a collective, deafening voice. If we truly want to have an influence on education reform and not simply talk about it on Tuesdays we need to think beyond the walls of our own classrooms. Start following your state government, who is making the right votes that benefit students, help them. Find out who is making the wrong choices for students and vote them out, or support their opponents. I have decided to attempt to form a political action committee with the purpose of influencing legislation to reform education. I have to try to do something to help the students who are not lucky enough to have a reformer in the room.

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