Can we change the system to do the right things, rather than
continue to try to do the wrong things right?
It’s a long question essentially around the idea of change. It resonated with me after reading an article
by Will Richardson that really spoke to the “why” of what many of us are doing
in our districts. The title was "9 Elephants in the (Class)room That Should 'Unsettle' Us."
Forgive my random recounting of some of them.
remember what we learned in school. I
often joke that the things I most use that I learned in school are the ability
to read, do arithmetic, and type. Most
other things I’ve picked up through experience.
bored and disengaged. Content often
isn’t relevant. That’s why
we have student engagement as a core tenant of our academic plan.
We teach in
discrete blocks of time and subjects rather than integrating them so that kids
can make the connections to get to deeper, longer lasting learning. Remember the steps to mitosis or meiosis? Even remember what the difference is? Our current model doesn’t get us to deep learning. We remember for a test and move on.
It's all about
the GPA. How many of us have had push
back from parents when implementing standards-based grading? The
desire to be number one and heightened accountability have made our kids a
series of numbers – GPA, ACT/SAT score, class rank. It's like body measurements for high school kids. Hey, my son is a 4.0 - 34 - 2 some parent might be saying.
The last one I want to mention is that we’re not assessing
the stuff that really matters.
Especially on state tests. It takes so long to get state test results they are meaningless. Not assessing what matters and not getting timely feedback.
I’m sure you can think of other elephants in the room and the article has another four.
I started my career in education as a math teacher and later taught science, which
makes me tend to think in systems. My
innate desire is to put a process around most things and then improve through
continuous improvement strategies. Not
everyone operates that way and it often has me challenging the status quo. We can't get better by staying the same. We've got to break past Newton's first law and get moving.
This requires change. We hear change or become irrelevant. We fear change because the unknown can be unsettling. We stay in our comfort zones.
We know we need to change, yet we’re afraid of it at the
same time. We ask ourselves what level of change can the
board handle, the staff, the community?
The kids can handle it and are begging for it. We get so caught up in our comfort zone that
we can’t get to where the magic happens.
Schools are an institution built around tradition.
Sometimes I think school is viewed more of a
rite of passage than an active learning experience. Millions of parents and grandparents went to
school in much the same manner it is today.
We are slow to change, but have to do so if we are going to remain a
As much as I like the neat little plan, the reality is the
changes we need to make won’t be smooth.
It’s going to be bumpy along the way and there will be setbacks. We know from team development that whenever
the members of a team or the task changes the team sees a dip in performance –
hopefully only for a bit.
Many of my colleagues are involved in change efforts at some level. Some
are further along than others. That’s
why I engage with them. Their ideas and support will help my students be more
Sure we’re doing things in all the areas one would expect in
today’s world, but I want to connect and learn with others so that the students I serve have the best opportunities we can provide. I wish more were on the same path.
I’m afraid I see too many folks just managing their schools
and not leading their systems forward.
Maybe they are comfortable that way.
Maybe they are afraid to push their communities. Maybe they’re stuck in a rut.
We hear all kinds
of schemes that will supposedly be better for kids. We know what we need to do and it’s
pedagogical transformation. It’s time
for a change. Our kids deserve better
than us continuing to do what we know isn’t right. Can we not change the system?
Recently our Boy Scout troop went camping at Pine Ridge Scout Camp in southern Illinois. I had been there before for Order of the Arrow or WoodBadge events, but never had the opportunity to wander around like on this trip.
On the day of arrival it was storming pretty hard just south of the camp. The temperature wasn't too bad, but the humidity as about 4,000%. Most of the group was staying in the Musgraves Lodge, but a few us stayed outside in tents.
I was in my little two person backpacking tent with a full rain fly. I debated whether to put the fly on, but ended up doing so because there was a decent chance of rain overnight. I've had the experience of getting rain without having the fly on and really didn't want that again.
Typically I'm a pretty cold sleeper, but on this night I never took my lightweight summer bag out of the bag. I didn't sweat, but I was warm throughout the night, which is odd for me.
The next morning I went off wandering early in the morning. The ranger brought us some chanterelle mushrooms the night before that were mighty tasty. I found a nice patch and picked a few for back at camp.
Pine Ridge is probably named for all the pine trees and it is a beautiful camp. With substantial undergrowth in some areas it felt like a mini rain forest with the high humidity. The canopy is thick and doesn't seem to allow for the humidity to escape or a breeze to come through. Or light I later learned.
Down on the waterfront at the swimming area we found a nice breeze. It would have been a great place to set a tent, but oh well.
After dark I wandered down to the waterfront again. I had a light with me, but it was my intention to not use it. The trek was about a quarter of a mile down a nice gravel road. It was so dark I could hardly see the light gravel. If not for the sound of the gravel road on my feet and somewhat being able to see the gap in the trees it would have been extremely hard to make it.
It was worse on the way back because the light from Musgraves Lodge destroyed my night vision. Another dad made the trek back without a light and made similar comments about the sound of gravel being the only thing that kept him on track.
I'm always amazed at times like this the number of people who solely rely on their flashlights to get around. Perhaps they're afraid of the dark, perhaps they are just used to lots of ambient light, or maybe they've never let their eyes adjust to the dark and learn just how much they can see.