Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Echo Chamber Of Education Reform...

One of the complaints I get and hear about Twitter, specifically, educators on Twitter, is that it is an echo chamber. Meaning that most of us that take part in things like #edchat, general discussion or just sit on the sidelines, generally feel the same way about education, that we are headed down the wrong path and need to change. Often the conversations go around and around, there is some fist bumping but no real action. 

You know what I think? To an extent the complaints are correct. I often see or take part in discussions that give me a sense of deja vù, that we have been here before, going around in our circle again...

Last night's #edchat was dedicated to figuring out how to move the conversation away from Twitter, blogs, and the Intertubes in general, and take it to the people who really matter, policy makers, state and local legislatures, boards, media, and anyone who will listen. 

Here are a few highlights:
  • Ed reform takes TIME-time to meet, time to discuss, time to explore, time to learn. To have more influence, teachers must invest TIME.
  • To participate in ed reform, teachers must embrace new roles & responsibilities, looking beyond their own classrooms.
  • Admins need to actively encourage teacher leaders & provide opportunities for growth & participation in decision-making.
  • Teachers must have positive relations with parents & community (and media).
  • Teachers must take the extra moment and advertise the great things they do, and not consider it bragging!
  • Students actually have far more power than some may think. They may influence many if inspired.
  • Mustn't forget who we serve. First students, then families, community, society, administration, school board? in what order? 
  • For effective change, we need effective teams working together, Build relationships with your own staff. Tribes.
Be sure to check out the entire archive and visit the new #edchat Facebook page for tons more info.

Here are some of my thoughts...

There are tons of people both on Twitter and off who are taking their message to the masses. Jeff Pulver believes in education so much that at his series of 140 Conferences he has upped the number of education related panels and talks from 1 in Los Angeles in Oct. 2009 to 4 at the most recent in NYC. At conferences around the world many educators are talking to audiences about why we need social media in the classroom and how relying completely on summative assessments is the wrong way to look at student achievement and other "hot button" education topics. 

The problem is, most of the time, the same people are hearing the same messages. And even further, those people already agree. There aren't enough educators talking to the people that matter. And really, that isn't their fault. I blame those that refuse to listen. Take state government. A politician will get in front of a camera all day long and say they are for education and that education is a priority. But when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is that politician is suddenly silent. It isn't the voices of the students or educators that they listen to it is the big bucks of donors that keep them in office who's voices are the loudest. 

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of educators that stand up and talk to those in positions of power. (I being one of them.) But until those in power begin to listen we can't make any inroads. 

So what do we do? 

First, we have to quit talking about testing. Someone last night said that when we talk about reform we ultimately come back to testing. Yes, the system most of us have is flawed. But I believe it is the way data is used, not collected that is the problem. Standardized tests can tell you a lot about individual students and how those students assigned to a particular teacher compare to each other. But when that data is used in such a way to compare kids to different teachers, or even worse, to different kids at different schools in different districts, that is a misuse of data. Education leaders using only the test is also an example of a flawed system. If we encourage teachers to use more formative assessments along the way, have students produce products that demonstrate learning, when it comes time for the summative assessment (the "Test") there will be no worries because you, the teacher, know what your kids were lacking, made some changes to your teaching and all turned out alright. We need to face it. Tests are here to stay at least for the time being. Do something different in your classroom. And forget about tests. 

What else can we do? Educators have to reach out and add voices to the chorus. Get to your parents, make them an ally. Talk to your community. Make them a partner. It is easy for policy makers to ignore educators. (Frankly, they do it all the time.) But when we add local businesses, parents, community leaders, it gets that much tougher for them ignore. We have to quit thinking that parents and the community are the enemy. Schools were once centers of our community. We have to get back to that. Separate, we are week. Together we are strong. (Clichè?)

Finally, we have to stop believing that there is some magical, one-size-fits-all change out there. The problems I have at my school are completely different from all the other schools in my district and from your school. While there are general things we all need to focus our effort on; technology in the classroom, teacher prep, professional development, PLC's. None is the exclusive answer for every situation. Figure out what change is needed in your area and start there. Start small. Change in the classroom is easy. Doing different is often contagious. You start doing things different, and suddenly your team or grade level is doing it too and then your school. Thats when things get noticed and you can spread your message. 

The key in all this is to not get discourage. Change in education is like an ice age. It happens slow. But it does happen. Stick with it and remember, its not about us. It is about those kids that come through our doors everyday. Don't they deserve it? 


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