“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy

Over the past several years, I’ve become increasingly aware of the conversations happening in both the visceral and virtual world about educational reform.  At the core of these conversations is the idea that the old, factory way of learning and teaching is no longer satisfactory; there is an acknowledgement that the world is a fundamentally different place today than it was five, ten, or twenty years ago.  Consequently, teaching needs to change in order to accommodate this shift and to properly prepare our students for life in this new world.

Although there are very few educators out there who would argue that change is not needed, I’m troubled by the number of excuses for why some are unwilling to change.  So here is the uncomfortable truth about educational reform.

Educational change is not dependent on the government or the ministry of education.  Nor is it dependent on changes in your district, school, or your lackadaisical administration.  Educational reform does not require more funding and it doesn’t require that you have more access to technology in your classroom.  At the end of the day there is only one thing that will bring about educational reform –

You.

Now don’t get me wrong, everything mentioned above can greatly aid in fostering and encouraging educational paradigm shifts within your school, district, and province.  However, at the end of the day, you will have to personally make this shift within your practice.  You will have to become uncomfortable.  Change and reform are only possible if educators within the system are uncomfortable with the way they’re teaching.

Margaret J. Wheatley articulates this idea succinctly and powerfully in her book, Turning to One Another:

As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally – our willingness to be disturbed.  Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think…We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time (p.34, emphasis mine).

I love the idea of “willing to be disturbed.”  As educators, we need this willingness as we examine and reflect on our classroom, our students, the curriculum we teach, and our profession as a whole.  Only when you find yourself disturbed by how or what you’re teaching, will you truly desire to change the way you teach.  Personally, this moment came fairly early on in my teaching career when I realized one day that I was becoming bored with how I was teaching and my students were bored along with me – this conclusion freaked me out.  However, because of this realization, I started on a five year journey to revitalize my teaching and I am a totally different teacher today. 

My guess is that there are a number of reasons why teachers – even if they are uncomfortable with the status quo – don’t take the steps to initiate and sustain change in their practice:

  • They don’t have a clear vision for what or how to change.
  • They feel they are too overworked as it is and don’t have the time to make these changes.
  • They feel isolated in their desire for change within their curriculum area or staff.
  • It’s uncomfortable being uncomfortable – so the way I’m teaching is fine (because it’s worked for the last 500 years thank-you very much).

Although there are many possible solutions to these concerns – there is one that stands out to me – community.  Entering into a community of educators who are questioning and challenging the very idea of school is perhaps the most powerful way to start moving towards change.  It eliminates the feeling of isolation, can help create a practical vision for how to change your classroom, and you will enter into a community of educators who are uncomfortable and striving for change.

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