When you doubt what you once professed…

This has been a long time coming. It’s been building in me and building in me, and, well, it’s time. You see, there’ve been movements in the Education field over the past couple years to reform just about everything. Most importantly for me, there has been a push to utilize resources such as Twitter and EDCamps and this and that, and I bought into it all for some time. But, I have to admit, I’m just about done. Now please hear me out — it’s just not working — for me.

I’ve always been a reader and have always felt that, even when things go well, they can go better with insight and another set of eyes and research and just about anything that forces me to take a hard look at what I’m doing. I like to think that I’m pretty good at what I do — but I also truly believe that I can get better — and that’s every single day. This is what we demand of our students and it’s exactly what we should demand of ourselves. Yet far too many of the seemingly self-designated “leaders” in this push for reform are simply looking to say “I know best, listen to me…” or “This worked for me, so it’ll work for everyone…” or “Because I have 10,000 followers on Twitter, I must know what I’m talking about…” or (my favorite) “Because I have 10,000 followers on Twitter and I’ve got this (essentially) self-published book — please buy it on Amazon, it’ll only run you $19.95 — I know what I’m talking about…”

Quite simply, the topic has allowed many to get on their bully pulpit on Twitter and essentially let everyone know that if you don’t believe in getting rid of grades or letting a student turn in an assignment 3 weeks late or getting rid of homework or letting a student take a test 8 times in order to get the A that his parent is demanding, then you’re an ineffective teacher. How dare you doubt us? 

I once led a Professional Development session in which I touted the merits of using Twitter for all things Ed. I stood in front of my peers and explained how many benefits there were in taking part in EDChats and networking with professionals across the world (I still stand by this one) and just listening to the wealth of knowledge that’s being disseminated by the leaders. I walked my peers through the basics, gave them a list of the EDChats, and another list that included all of the big “names” to follow.

And it didn’t take long for me to regret this.

I watched as these “leaders” got on their soapboxes and I watched as more and more of these “leaders” pushed those books. I watched as more and more Admins started buying in to what was being sold by these “leaders.” And I realized that we’re traveling down a slippery slope.

And the last thing that I’m trying to say is that I know more than “them,” or that I disagree with all that “they” are professing. I just think we’re being naive to think that this is easy and, more importantly, that we need to take a one size fits all approach to this. I also feel that we’re dumbing things down to the point of facing a true turning point in what we’re doing. We are assisting in making our students lazier and we aren’t doing them any favors by lowering our standards, and, in my opinion, when we tell them they can turn anything in whenever, that there’s no need for homework, blah, blah, blah, then we’re setting them up for failure when they move on to the next level and the level beyond that. We have lowered our standards and expectations to the floor.

And I’m not basing that statement on what some book tells me, I’m basing that statement on what I’m seeing with my own two eyes. I’m seeing Honors level High School students who cringe when you ask them what a gerund is or to create a compound complex sentence or to give me an adverb when I ask for the first adjective that comes to mind about Character X. I’ve listened as students have told me time and time again that “there’s nothing on my topic on the Holocaust” because Google didn’t return something with its first “hit.” I won’t even dive deeper into the inability to properly search for anything other than to say that we’re raising kids who give up if Siri doesn’t respond with an answer immediately — and Siri is pathetic, for the most part.

“But those skills aren’t important in the 21st Century,” you say. And, in my opinion, you’re wrong. They’re every bit as important as learning to collaborate and persevere and to exhibit more grit. And can somebody please give me a break with all of this grit talk? We’d never even have to worry about this if we allowed kids to fail in the first place, because nobody wants to fail and it’s only natural to learn how to right the ship, so to speak.

But what do I know? I’m simply a classroom teacher without X-degree and I certainly haven’t written a book or promoted it endlessly on Twitter.

I believe that there is something to be gained in everything that we do. I believe that Twitter can be a great thing for some people. I believe that some people gain from reading what works for others and then figuring out how to adapt it to what works for them. I believe that some people gain an incredible amount by attending EDCamps and bringing what they pick up back to their own situations.

I’ve just had it with the idea that there’s only one way to do things today and if you aren’t willing to do it this way, then you are unwilling to change or you’re difficult or you just need to get with the times. Perhaps some of us simply know that what you’re selling doesn’t work for us. Perhaps we’ve found something better for us. Perhaps what you’re selling works for you but not others. There’s nothing wrong with this idea.

But that idea doesn’t sell books, that’s for sure.

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How can (I, you, we) work toward ed reform?

I have a routine in the morning that helps me get out of bed. Well, actually, it keeps me in bed for about half an hour, but I’m hoping you catch my drift. It starts by getting my laptop going and religiously checking out a set of sites in a particular order (typing that actually made me realize just how anally retentive about this I might actually be) – I read the local newspapers then MSNBC for a national look, check out Facebook and then get to Twitter. I have two Twitter accounts – one for more personal matters, and one that I’ve established to keep me focused on educational issues (http://twitter.com/JeremyLenzi if you’re interested). Since I’ve started this second account, I have found it to be by far the most beneficial when it comes to starting my day.

I have been saying for quite some time that we have the power to effect change. So how do we do it? To begin with, we speak up. We have to be willing to take a stand and do it in a proper manner. We have to do what we do in front of our students on a daily basis – we have to model the appropriate behavior.

Standing firm in our beliefs, we must be willing to say that we’re not happy with the way things are and present a viable option for how to change. It’s not enough to simply moan and groan with no alternative presented to what we’re moaning and groaning about. If we are lectured to for 45 minutes during a presentation on 21st Century Skills that employed exactly no 21st century skills, then we must be willing to explain the error of these ways. And we must do so in the most appropriate way, by modeling what teaching in the 21st century truly entails.

As I’ve become more interested in the concept of education reform I’ve noticed a few things. The first thing I’ve noticed is that those in power tend not to like it when you speak up against their philosophies. This doesn’t mean that we’re wrong and they’re right, or vise versa, for that matter. What it means, more than anything else, is that we have to keep the dialogue open and ongoing.

Shouting, degrading and a pompous attitude will not do this. Providing constructive criticism is always more appropriate. So, while I was disappointed in the actual 21st Century Skills presentation, I was truly appreciative of our administrations recognition that this had to at least be addressed. I was extremely pleased with our administration’s providing choice for the in-service day in question. While I don’t believe it was ideal, it was the first time offered, and that’s a positive beginning. This was a start – now let’s keep the conversation going.

I can’t even begin to explain how valuable of a resource Twitter has been to my ongoing transformation into someone who truly cares about reforming our industry. I have “met” so many passionate people I would have never even heard about had it not been for this tool. To see how many people truly care – truly care – about what they’re doing is awe inspiring to say the least.

This morning I noticed that today has been designated the National Educational Blogging Day and knew that I wanted to take part. It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to read what so many others like us have to say about this issue that so many are passionate about. But, it’s also a tremendous opportunity for us to read what others have to say who don’t necessarily agree with our points of view. I’ve been thinking about the First Amendment a lot lately due to different issues. I mentioned yesterday that I took a group of students to D.C. for a day trip and some of the students went to the Museum. It meant so much to me when a student came back to me with a picture of the First Amendment as found on the outside of the Newseum. In case you haven’t been there, I’ve posted a pic below as a reminder that we have to take the good with the bad. That ALL speech is thankfully protected – even that which I don’t agree with.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to add to today’s discussion until I was led to a post written by John T. Spencer on the Cooperative Catalyst blog. In it, I found the following paragraph to be of particular interest:

“What we lack is humility. Set down the megaphone. Walk out of the echo chamber. Share a pint with someone who thinks you’re crazy for authentic learning or traditional learning or unschooling or home schooling or schooling on the large vacuum tubes of the interweb. Ask more questions and listen a little closer and see what emerges.”

I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. Let us be willing to speak up. But let us also be willing to listen.

enough said...