Lots of people are talking about the need for change in education. Some people may go so far as to say we need a revolution. ;) Many people think they know the answer about how education needs to change. The ideas and potential fixes range far and wide with each a self proclaimed game changer. Entire school systems are being created around these notions and many of these reforms or shifts are being held in high regard by many within education circles. Yet, nothing has really stuck and created the wholesale shift or change in thinking about how school happens in the US that many argue we need.
Rather then thinking about what changes need to be made to the system, I am wondering if systemic change is even possible. Can change happen in our schools? Is changing the system of American education at a system level likely to happen anytime soon? Could a strong argument be made that it never will? I am not a pessimist and do see the need for change in so many places in my role as a parent as well as a teacher. What I am suggesting is that change can not happen in any real way if it doesn't start in the classroom.
Stop and think about any of the positive changes that have happened in education in the last decade. Some of these changes vary in impact and scale, yet there is evidence of change. Teachers changing the way grades are used and what homework means for kids. Teachers pushing a maker mindset as well as including innovation and creativity in their classrooms. Or the teachers looking at their instructional practices and utilizing methods such as flipped classroom or project based learning. All of these changes happened within a classroom and were led by classroom teachers. It is when those elements and those ideas get taken out of the classroom and try to be scaled for large systems they often fall apart or lose their effectiveness.
A great example of this is the PLC model as it has played out in many schools. What started as an idea to have teachers collaborate around teaching and learning has turned into busy work and forced agendas. Where teachers were organically discussing best practices and instructional pedagogy, they are now forced to obsess over data and create inauthentic protocols to fulfill administrator expectations. Many other seemingly positive ideas coming out of classrooms are taken and brought “up to scale” and lose their authenticity and ultimately their impact on students.
When decisions about what is best for kids are being made at the classroom level they more closely reflects what is truly best for kids. When decisions about what's best for kids are made at a system-level either in a district, state or federal level, those decisions are less about what's best for kids and more about what's best for the system. The decisions made at the high level are about efficiency and simplicity rather than individualization or student centered. This is not necessarily a criticism but rather an observation. With this in mind, can change be driven from the "top"?
As a classroom teacher can we wait for our district, state or the DoE in Washington to mandate change? It has been my experience that changes or even full a blown revolution of ideas do not take place in the state houses or the policy rooms in a country. Revolutions are began by the people. As a history teacher I often teach my students about the many revolutions which have taken place throughout history. They begin with the common people. The people on the streets and in the trenches. As teachers, we are those people in the streets of education and the trenches of the school system.
The revolution of ideas and the movements of change are going to happen in a classroom not a courtroom, state room and likely not even in a school district meeting. As teachers we are responsible for being the advocates of change our students need. Without us, change and reform is just an agenda item for decision makers and a talking point in an election year.