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If you’re a teacher in the Lower Mainland (and most likely in the rest of British Columbia as well), it doesn’t matter where you look, the call for educational reform is there – in your face.  Teachers and principals are talking about it.  The Twitterverse and blogosphere are filled with the call for teachers to reform, to implement more technology, to fall into the loving arms of inquiry.  There are workshops, professional development days, district conferences, edcamps, and all manner of un, dis, anti, and re learning opportunities.  Yet despite all of the push for teachers to think about teaching and learning from a new paradigm and the evidence that demonstrates that it’s needed, there are still educators resistant to change.  Why?

No matter how many ultra-inspiring workshops a teacher attends or passionate presenters they listen to, these alone are not in themselves enough to inspire long lasting change.  How many of us have been inspired by an amazing presentation only to find ourselves teaching in our same old ways a week or two later?  If your hand isn’t way up in the air, either you have only been to one really amazing presentation or your nose is getting longer!  The truth of the matter is that lasting change must come from within.

Although this answer probably doesn’t surprise you, I haven’t been to a single presentation that has really unpacked this idea.  This doesn’t mean that workshops or presentations can’t inspire change, only that if they are going to lead to transformation, a work of change must have already started within the teacher.  The most difficult part of change is coming to the place where you can admit to yourself that change is needed.  That perhaps you aren’t happy with what you’re doing or how you’re doing things.  I think that the realization that you’re unhappy is often very slow in developing, resting in the subconscious until one day you’re going for a walk, or eating breakfast, or driving home and suddenly you’re face to face with the fact that you’re unhappy.  It is at that point that deep, transformational change is possible.  A question that can tease out whether you’re ready to start thinking about change is simply complex:

“Are you happy and/or passionate about how and what you do as a teacher?”

I haven’t met a single new teacher who is lackluster or unmotivated about getting into teaching.  Most enter into the profession because they are passionate about their subject area, teaching, and students.  In contrast, I have met numerous teachers who have taught 10+ years who seem jaded, unmotivated, and unhappy.  What happens in the those years?  What is it that can steal the joy of teaching and replace it with resignation or apathy?  There are lots of reasons that could contribute to this unhappiness: overcrowded classrooms, lack of funding, lack of support, lack of resources, government interference, or student disengagement.  To be fair, these are real issues that present significant obstacles in the classroom.  However, I’m convinced that to let these issues steal the joy and happiness that comes from teaching is unfair to both the teacher and the student.  The late Steve Jobs said in a commencement address to Stanford University grads in 2005 that, “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”  Is there anything that you need to change in order to bring back your passion for teaching?

Another equally important question that might serve as a litmus test that change is needed is below:

Are your students learning in a meaningful and relevant way?

If you are happy but the learning in your classroom isn’t meaningful or relevant for your students, this is another indication that things need to change.  If the answer to either of these questions is ‘no,’ the next critical (and very difficult) question is:  What do I need to change to restore my passion or effectiveness as a teacher?

This is the topic for another post!

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Watching this video was like having my eyes opened to a new dimension that I want to go to as an educator.  Although the ideas are not new, the way they’re communicated really resonated with me.  High Tech High is a school based out of San Diego that is changing the way school works.  Enjoy…but watch at your own risk!

 

Quotes that (really) connected with me:

“Rigour is being in the company of a passionate adult who is rigorously pursuing inquiry in the area of their subject matter and is inviting students along as peers in that adult discourse.”

“If your kids are producing work that’s worth doing and that has lasting value and learning that’s worth learning, you’re a good teacher.”

– Larry Rosenstock

Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in quite a while – I went to McDonald’s and had a double cheeseburger.  Although many people might cringe at the idea of sinking their teeth into a greasy McDonald’s burger of dubious content, I have to say that it hit the spot.  As I was happily devouring my double cheeseburger of dubious content, I started to take stock of my surroundings.  Much had changed since my last visit!  The old linoleum floor had been replaced with attractive stone tiles.  The plain walls were covered with an appealing combination of paint and wood paneling.  I sat on a modern bar stool across from a private, four person booth.  TV’s were strategically placed in different parts of the room, and when I entered the main doors I was greeted by a sign stating that free internet was available.  The menu signs had all been updated – including many new menu items such as different coffees and healthier options.  Even the exterior was sporting a new, modern facelift.  I was impressed!

Unfortunately, my positive feelings were quickly dashed on the greasy floor of reality.  The nice stone floor was literally shining with grease and was in desperate need of a mop.  The tables were also coated in greasy spots that refused to be wiped away without a heavy-duty industrial cleaner.  There were numerous tables with trays of garbage that hadn’t been cleaned up.  The washroom – although modernized – could have kept a pathologist (and plumber) in business until the global markets stabilize.  And my double cheeseburger of dubious content was still the same double cheeseburger I remember – with the same McBowel Movement that I somehow forgot.  In essence, it was still the same old McDonald’s only with a new, ‘hip’ look.

Almost as soon as I finished my deliciously dubious double cheeseburger, I was struck by another thought – what if all my attempts to change the way I teach are also just nice facades hiding the same old greasy reality underneath?  Am I really making progress as a teacher or simply giving my teaching a tech friendly, pseudo-authentic, hip facelift?  Are the changes I’ve been working so hard to implement really dressing up an antiquated paradigm – or do they t truly reflect the demands and needs of a rapidly changing world?  Are the changes I’m making and the impact they have on my students ‘dubious’ like my double cheeseburger?

Although most of the changes happening in the educational realm are beneficial to students and their learning, I sometimes wonder if the reform that’s happening is simply covering up an antiquated system underneath.

Personally, I want to get out of the McDonald’s, fast food model of education altogether and move to something where my students can sit down and really engage with their food.  The issue with the McDonald’s style of education is that there is no engagement.  Students come in, quickly gobble down their food from a select menu that isn’t all that good or useful for them, and then leave.  Maybe feeling a little sick.  There is little personal connection and the food is cheap.

Instead, I want my students to come in, sit down with the expectation that they will be staying for awhile.  I want them to engage and eat deeply of their learning.  I want my student’s learning to cost them something.  True learning is never cheap, and where deep learning is occurring it will cost students their lives.  It will mean something.  But in order for this to happen the very ethos of my classroom needs to change, and perhaps this is where all transformational reform is aimed.

For the last five years I have been making McDonald’s-like changes to my classroom and it’s been good.  However, as I was sitting and eating my double cheeseburger of dubious content I realized that I need to continue getting out of the fast food industry style of education.  It’s a change I think my students will eat up!

“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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