For those people who like to call #edchat an echo chamber or a shallow attempt at real change or too fast to accomplish anything or all the above, tonight will hopefully change that perception. The topic for the hour was "What actions are needed to move the education reform movement from conversation to action? Are educators up to the challenge?" I think educators ARE up to the challenge. Not all of them but not every citizen is up to political involvement and action either. I'd argue that educators, at least the ones in my PLN, have a much higher percentage of ready, willing, and able people than the general populace. There are some that are not and the reasons are as varied as the number of people. That's okay.
So for those of us who are ready for the challenge, here is my two cent opinion on how to get it done.
1) We have to decide what "reform" means. As usual, tonight's chat had at least three concurrent streams. One dealt with policy and law-making issues. Another dealt with tech integration. And another focused on pedagogical changes. Some may think the three are so intertwined that they cannot be separated. I'd argue against that. These issues are better addressed in separate spheres of varying sizes. Pedagogy cannot be successfully "reformed" on a national level. You cannot mandate PBL or any other current acronym as the method of choice. However, you can advocate for its implementation within your building and see successful results.
Likewise with tech integration. This is probably a district wide issue. Districts control the filters. Districts create the price lists of approved vendors. Districts sign the contracts and divvy out the money for technology purchases.
Finally, there are big issues, really big issues that have to be addressed on state and national levels. These are issues like mandatory standardized testing used to rank and sort schools, teachers, and students. These are issues like NCLB and RttT. Change, or reform if you prefer, can only happen at that level because these have become legislative issues.
2) Politics CANNOT be removed from the equations. If it makes you feel better, think of it as relationship building. Let's look at the scenarios above and see how this would play out. For school level reform, who are the stakeholders, powerbrokers, and decision makers for the particular issue at hand? Maybe the element that needs changing is something as simple as the attitudinal climate. At my school, we had a lot of naysayers. At least it seemed that way. They put down any idea because it was someone else's idea. There were a lot of teachers who seemed more concerned about how miserable they could make student lives than they were in creating a positive student-centered learning environment. Our principal was pulling his hair out, trying to get them to change. I asked him who the positive, forward thinking people were. I gathered those people together and we began to talk amongst ourselves. We realized there were more of us than we thought. We began to talk to others. There is still a slightly negative climate at school, but it is less acceptable. Other people are stepping up and saying this isn't the way it should be. It's all happening because relationships are being leveraged and built.
If you're trying to change pedagogy in your building, share success stories with your PLC or bring a positive conversation to the teacher's lounge for a change. Talk about how much the students enjoyed it, how much they learned, and when/how you plan to do it again. Do this enough and others will soon try it. I watched it happen all last year. I even changed some of what I was doing because of other people's success stories.
District level changes are a little tougher. You might find some like-minded colleagues at another school. They might be able to network through a third school. Soon you can a diverse group from a broad range of schools that demonstrates the wide support the issue has. Does your district have any type of teacher advisory council? Is there anyone from your school who takes issues to the district.
If we look at the technology issue as an example, who pulls the strings? Do you have a connection with the district level administrator? If not, is there someone on the next level? If your only relationship is with your school's technology person, how well connected is he or she? In my case, I made a point to attend several district sponsored technology workshops last summer. One reason was it enabled me to meet all the lead technology staff. They do not have the power to make some of the changes I'd like, but they have the ear of those who do. Several times throughout the school year they were happy to help me get small changes made. I gunning for some bigger ones this year.
One last district level technology suggestion. Push to make your class a pilot project. Get parents to sign off on anything that's social media related. Show examples of other places that have had success with whatever tech you're pushing for. Get good records and at the end of the year show off everything you have done, even the things that flopped. Just be sure to demonstrate what you learned through that failure and how you adapted to make the next time more successful.
I have absolutely no personal stories to share on how I helped bring about reform on a state or national level. I think the same principals apply though. Just do what citizens do when they want zoning changed, lotteries brought in, new and improved "bans" established. Write your representatives. Write them again. Get someone else to write them. Find a group that writing and calling them. A teacher on my hallway is a local rep for one of the professional organizations. She was invited to speak to the legislature this spring. They know her face and name now. I'm gonna call her. Anthony Cody and Teachers Letter to Obama on Facebook is another great example. Or maybe you simply are the one who is able to start the big ball rolling.
3) Finally, reform is not just about stopping something. It's about advocating for something else. What is the alternative you want to see put into place? Don't come to the table without a solution. Anyone can point out problems. We don't need more of that. We need viable answers.
So now, what change are you going to help bring about? Who are you going to enlist to help you do it?