What I mean by teachers being the only real agents of school reform

This post is actually a comment in the conversation around school change over at Public School Insights – Casting Call for Teachers. It’s pretty much in the same state, maybe an extra sentence or two. I think it helps to clarify what I mean when I say “Teachers are the only real agents of school reform.” It’s a stark statement but holds truth.


I think there is a confusion with what I term as passion in teaching and teacher-hero. I absolutely do not believe in the teacher hero, unless it is as a community hero who just does the right thing (there are different understandings of hero – some have capes, like the movie star heroes, but most heroes are privately so and don’t even realize they are.)

I disagree that retaining a model of passionate teaching will result in failed culture change. Retaining that model as hope for the future can only succeed in creating more instances of it – we see what we ask questions about.

If it was understood that I thought teachers could/should act completely independently of anyone else I did not explain myself very well and for that I apologize.

I am a big believer in whole system change initiatives. In particular through theoretical and methodological lenses like appreciative inquiry, open systems theory, and participatory action research. These theories state that all parts of any system have an effect on each other part, even when we don’t realize it. Each part is important, there is a symbiotic relationship through the parts of any system. Therefore all (or as many as we can get in the room) parts of a system need to be involved in any kind of change process for it to become transformational, as Sheryl so wonderfully put it.

We do, however, have to recognize that the parts play different roles. In the educational system all of the roles are important and depend on each other – admin, teacher, support, children, families, boards (governing and school or district), government, health, social services… the list can go on. Even if all of the parts seem to be running in fabulous order – policy is good, the school is clean, parents are supportive, etc – if the teacher does not translate that policy into practice in her/his classroom, it doesn’t happen for the children.

That is why I say that teachers are the only REAL agents of school reform – agent as acting agent. We are not the only participants in reform, we are not the only ones who can trigger reform, but we put policy into practice on the front lines. We act on it. In good situations that passion breathes life into the lessons we work on with our students, and the school-based policy we help to create with our colleagues and administration. In difficult situations we need passion to be able to spin bad policy into good practice. That’s a given. Otherwise, the practice will merely reflect the policy upon which it was based.

We see what we ask questions about. If we continue to ask questions about how to fix a broken system we will see broken systems all around us. If we ask questions about how to generate balanced, participatory learning cultures, we will start to see places where they exist. And where they work.

Love and Affection. Learning. Report Cards. Fritz Redl

I originally posted these quotes (see bottom of post) over a year ago. They resonate deeply within me.

Love and Affection by Today is a Good Day on Flickr. Click image to view source.

Love and Affection by Today is a Good Day on Flickr. Click image to view source.

Love and affection can not be bartering tools. They just need to be. I believe they are conditions for learning, for real learning to happen. But what is real learning? It’s learning beyond the test. Learning beyond the classroom. It’s collaborating with others to move forward in whatever you might be working on – for students it can be learning about work ethic and motivation by spending extra time to make sure you are on the right track, to make sure you will be successful. For teachers it can be the same thing when we spend extra time collaborating with each other and with our students to make sure we are all successful.

I want my students to believe that my love and affection is there whether they do well or not. Of course I want them to succeed, but I certainly hope they do not seek me out after school in order to ‘win’ love and affection. I hope they seek me out because they sense the caring and because they want to succeed for themselves.

It’s report card time. I have a love/hate relationship with these times of the year. Because I have some students who are going to fail this semester. At least, they are going to fail on paper. But these same students have made such amazing advances compared to where they have come from. Advances that have nothing to do with the number that just might crush them on that government mandated piece of paper that reports on content, not process called the report card.

I’m off to battle the numbers.

Image: Fritz Redl found on Milestones: A Timeline of Wheelock College

“The children must get plenty of love and affection
whether they deserve it or not: they must be assured of the basic quota of
happy, recreational experiences whether they seem to have it coming or not.
In short, love and affection, as well as the granting of gratifying life
situations, cannot be made the bargaining tools of educational or even
therapeutic motivation, but must be kept tax-free as minimal parts of the
youngsters’ diet, irrespective of the problems of deservedness” (1952).

“Boredom will always remain the greatest enemy of school disciplines. If
we remember that children are bored, not only when they don’t happen to
be interested in the subject or when the teacher doesn’t make it
interesting, but also when certain working conditions are out of focus
with their basic needs, then we can realize what a great contributor to
discipline problems boredom really is. Research has shown that boredom
is closely related to frustration and that the effect of too much
frustration is invariably irritability, withdrawal, rebellious
opposition or aggressive rejection of the whole show.” (1966)

Powered by ScribeFire.

(originally Published on: June 3, 2007 at 8:16 pm)

What it takes.

To help others to make a better world is healing.” Harley Wylie (Huu-ay-aht First Nation and American in ancestry. His mother went to a residential school in Port Alberni where she was regularly beaten for speaking her Native language. from Straight.com After the Settlement Comes Healing, Closure by Carlo Pablito)

Male fireflies flashing in unison, from The Millenium Bridge Simulator Project of the University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering (2000)

Male fireflies flashing in unison, from The Millenium Bridge Simulator Project of the University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering (2000)

I just commented on Jose’s rich post What Will It Take? and my comment or, rather, the feelings that were stirred in writing it, are rising in me.

Cynicism poisons my motivation for change. I know this about myself so I purposefully disallow it. I shake it off when I feel it coming. I have to. Some have called me a blind optimist and I’ve become comfortable in that. I refuse to allow any part of me to believe that something I see as necessary won’t happen. I think that is why I became a teacher… “Teaching is the greatest act of optimism. ” (Colleen Wilcox)

George Carlin also said “And then there are the times when the wolves are silent and the moon is howling.” The challenge is to maintain hope and positive energy until it is our time to howl again.

As I prepare myself for a new school year – one that is certain to be rife with challenge – I am paying attention to what I read, what I listen to, what I feel, what I add my voice to.

I’m filled with struggle and hope. I am deeply cut by how we can treat each other.

In June I wrote about the pride I felt for the Canadian government’s apology to residential school survivors and families of survivors. I felt it was a step toward a positive future. I still feel that way, though differently. I am confused about this apology. I hear accounts of healing, I also hear accounts that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a sham, a tool wielded by the Government and the United Church to ensure that the truth never really does come out. That the Aboriginal leaders involved in the commission and the acceptance of the apology are working in tandem with the Government and the Church for these secretive and shameful ends. That the apology comes from a misguided place. That until genocide is acknowledged it means nothing. That there are mass graves of children across Canada. That those (i.e. Kevin Annett) who try to point out these facts are lying or crazed.

When I look to the centre of my confusion around this history – and the agonizing, wretched, ripping and at the same time damming effects that continue to resonate in our rivers and hearts – and dredge out my feelings I find myself focusing on the people and the acts that represent hope. On the healing journeys. I believe that by focusing on hope for the future we have it. And we will see more of it. This is how I am preparing myself for the new year.

Recently I asked readers, ‘What are you looking for?’ and Michael Doyle (go read the post I linked to with his name. do it. he’s awesome) created a strong image in response

I am not sure I can answer this question directly, but I will tell you that I am closer to it when I am sitting at a pond’s edge at dusk watching lightning bugs attracted to their own reflected light than when I am in my cortex, trying to approach this rationally.

I am attracted to your light. That’s what it takes.

The Experience Project

I just this moment discovered this project through facebook – in one of those ads that usually annoy the crap out of me in the left hand column (they annoy me because a) they are usually about finding an adult friend or signing up for some kind of scammy looking deal; and b) when I am at home on my weak little 512mb of ram machine they slow down the page loading process). This time though my eye quickly snagged on the idea of teacher stories that was in the headline, so I clicked.

My click brought me to a page with this header image:

First browse makes me like it – a site dedicated to sharing inspirational stories about teachers and teaching is a good thing in my books. Any time we share stories that touch our deep cores about what matters most to us as people we are one step (or maybe, actually, a million steps) closer to creating more of those kinds of experiences.

Once I scanned through the first page I was drawn by ‘The Experience Project’ logo, I like the font, the colours – simple blues (not so sure about the anxious little character at the front, though).

Took me a few moments to find out how to get to the project main page (maybe they need a link that is more obvious…) but once I did I was glad I got there.

I definitely need to explore this some more, but Chalk it Up seems to be but one element of the Experience Project – a social networking site dedicated to sharing the stories that make up our most positive experiences.

Pretty cool stuff. I’m thinking this kind of thing can be a great way to collect and preserve stories shared during an appreciative change process in an organization.

I’m going to join and find out some more about it.

Maybe you can too.

If you do, I am harmonicagoldfish :)

New Wiki –> TeachingFutures

turn your head

A while ago I created a post in response to recurring themes I was seeing in many blogs around creating change in our schools towards authentic, meaningful learning situations for our students and teachers.

Here is that post.

Today I finally got around to creating a wiki to continue the conversation (thanks to John Brandt for the reminder).

I’ve called it TeachingFutures and am inviting all of my wonderful readers to join and add to the conversation. I think I made it public to join, but if it isn’t, post a comment asking for an invite.

As you can probably tell from that last line, I am a wikinewbie and will be relying on your help to make this one work for us :)

Here’s a question – I have added a page, but it does not appear as a tab…is it supposed to? Will it only appear if I create a link to it from a main page? I went to edit the ‘home’ page but did not seem to have the option to keep the welcome content there, which describes a bit about how a wiki works. I’d like to keep that there for any other wikinewbies who may need it. I did manage to create a link from the menu side bar, though…woohoo!

So, to see the new page (and discussion) I started, click on the sidebar link called ‘Discovery’ when you get there.

Technorati Tags:

Powered by ScribeFire.