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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

‘Badass’ Teachers: Beware of the Implementation Dip

By Peter DeWitt — July 03, 2013 4 min read
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I have to admit that I cringe a bit when I use the word ‘Badass.’ I’m a rather uptight guy, although I like to surround myself with colorful people. It’s just that I also happen to be an elementary school principal and feel like I should discipline myself for using bad language when I talk about a group of ‘Badass’ Teachers (BAT).

Some members of the group have suggested that those of us who are uncomfortable with the word should use BAT instead. As I get used to the group and hearing more and more about them, I find myself feeling alright with the name they chose. After all, would another “cleaner” version spark such an interest? Is some of the allure due to the fact that educators and parents are pushing back against reform, so they want a name that is synonymous with that type of pushback?

Over the past few weeks the ‘Badass’ Teachers have multiplied on their Facebook page. They have gone over 20,000 which is hugely impressive and now have their own website, which makes it much easier for those educators and parents not on Facebook to keep up with what is going on.

Just like any group, there are people who want to belong to something bigger but they may not do anything out in public for fear of losing their jobs. There are others in the group who are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They are prepared to opt their children out of standardized tests and flood the US Department of Education with phone calls. And then, of course, there are a large number of educators and parents in between who want to blog, write letters, support rallies, and contact politicians.

With all of these different personalities, it is to be expected that the group would experience some internal struggles. Those internal struggles are really just an implementation dip but they need to be cautious because implementation dips can sink even the best of organizations. Sometimes the dips can go so low for so long that they never rebound.

Where the BAT’s are concerned, there have been educators debating and arguing their points back and forth. Debate is only an issue when it becomes personal and people leave the group because they don’t want to hear consistent negative comments. Many people were questioning the name of the group, which is typical, but others were arguing about which party (Democrats or Republicans) are responsible for the corporate reform.

Just to be clear, laws like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and reform movements like Race to the Top (RTTT) were bi-partisan. Fortunately, there were some educators in the group that pointed that out. They felt strong enough to go against the grain when it came to the Facebook conversations.

One of the other issues that came out in the conversations on Facebook concerned the blaming of administrators for changes happening at the local level. As a very vocal administrator, I was clearly a little uncomfortable with that dialogue. However, I also understand that not everyone works with a supportive a school leader.

Teachers should be careful not to bash administrators because it is very much the same as teacher bashing, and no one likes that. Fortunately, there are over 40 “administrators” on the Badass Teacher Facebook page who are trying to curtail that kind of dialogue because overall, it doesn’t help anyone move in a positive direction.

The Implementation Dip
Mark Naison, one of the founders of the group, stepped in quite a bit and refocused the discussions. That is so important. It’s understandable that people want to vent but too much venting can get in the way of the real movement. One of the reasons for the movement is to bring back positive dialogue about education.

There are numerous other reasons as well. Educators, parents and students are tired of standardized testing, which is both long and arduous for students. They don’t support having anywhere from 20% to 50% (depending on what state you live in) of their evaluations tied to standardized testing. The movement is also about bringing back the public in public education. For too long, public education has been going in the direction of privatization.

Everyone in the group has to focus on what the real issues are in public education or the group is going to meet its demise as quickly as it came out in public, and no one wants that.

In the End
The BAT group has amazing potential. It’s growing rapidly and is filled with passionate educators and parents. Grass roots efforts such as the ‘Badass’ Teachers isn’t just about the national conversation though. These educators collectively can have a positive impact on education but individually they can create change in their communities.

It means that they can put political pressure on local politicians who have not done enough to bring back equitable funding or stop the insanity of increased standardized testing. ‘Badass’ Teachers can try to inspire their administrators to speak out and can be the voice to talk with parents about harmful changes going on in the classroom.

Some educators in the group have compared the venting and dialogue to the 8 stages of grief. As the group goes through those 8 stages it’s important to get past denial, bargaining, and depression, but never, ever finish with acceptance. As educators, we should never accept what is happening in public education.

The BAT movement is about “Thinking globally and acting locally,” at the same time belonging to a large national movement. Hopefully, with the creation of the website and You Tube channel, Mark Naison may have just helped the group get passed the implementation dip, but he needs the help of the educators in the group to truly move past it.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.