Something I often read as a hindrance to culture change in public schools is the isolation of the public school teacher. The idea that schools are filled with disconnected, independent contractors, working alone is a pervasive one. Some of this is self-imposed isolation, or “flying under the radar” in the vernacular. Teachers might wish to be left alone for any number of reasons, perhaps their practice is flawed and they don’t want to admit it, or perhaps they are flouting a school policy that they disagree with, or perhaps they are just so inundated with the work of trying as hard as they can to educate young people that they can’t spare a minute.
Some of the isolation of the public school teacher is institutional, it is created and fostered by the system. Think about the places where you work, narrow corridors of unconnected rooms where teachers are lucky to see each other for two minutes between periods. Converted classrooms that serve as lounges for faculty, where fliers for upcoming board meetings are hastily attached to walls with yellow tape. Faculties that have been spread so thin by diminishing budgets that they see twice as many students as they did last year. I find it more than a little ironic that a system that often treats all students as if they were the same has no such checks on the teachers.
Whatever the reason for this isolation, how ever long it has been here, it is bad for us and it is bad for our kids. Teachers are learners, and learners crave interaction of an intellectual nature. Think about how energized you might feel if you happen to have a two minute conversation about a new teaching technique while you desperately wait in line to fill your coffee cup between periods. We need to sustain that feeling, somehow, and I believe we can.
I used to believe that the system was too large, to corrupt, to entrenched to ever change. But I don’t believe that anymore. Systems after all are built and sustained by people and I have seen the power of people. People like Shelly Terrell, whose infinite energy has lead to dozens of projects that touch the lives of teachers and students all around the globe. People like Kelly Tenkely, who asked herself, why couldn’t I start a school, and did. People like Clive Elsmore who believed in the cause of education so fiercely he gave up hundreds of hours, with only a thank you for reward. All of the organizers on the Reform Symposium team including Lisa Dabbs, Melissa Tran, Ian Chia, Cecilia Lemos, Jerry Blumengarten and Mark Barnes are doing amazing things all over the world and making a difference.
The Reform Symposium was just an idea until it was empowered by people.
Then it became something else. It became total strangers with common goals working together to learn from each other. Although the Reform Symposium was born of social media it has never been about that, it has been and will continue to be about people. So don’t lose hope. Ideas are powerful.