Education Opinion

My Own Personal BOD

By Nancy Flanagan — February 12, 2010 3 min read
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Here’s an interesting challenge, for educators: imagine yourself as a corporation. (Lately, that’s become easier to do; no need to feel compelled to look out for anyone or anything but Number One.) So there you are--a full-fledged multinational firm with a Board of Directors to guide and direct your actions. (You can imagine a multi-million dollar annual budget, too--why not?)

Which five people would you choose to serve on your Board of Directors, if you could have anyone--living or dead--overseeing your personal mission, providing advice and perspective?

The goals and vision of my corporation would center around teachers taking a lively and critical role in the policy decisions that affect their own practice and schools in America. Therefore, I’d want a mix of people to provide reliable information, deep experience, and pushback against conventional thinking. In addition, they’d have to be people with whom I’d like to have a beer.

My top-of-the-head list had close to two dozen people. After a lot of soul-searching (OK, twenty minutes), I hit on the following five folks, three women and two men to reflect the prevalence of women as practitioners--where the rubber meets the policy road.

#1) Herb Kohl. I’ve had an educational crush on Herb Kohl since the 70s, when his book “On Teaching” served as touchstone for my first years in the classroom. One of the things he said--teachers should be willing to listen to music and read books their students like, if they expect students to read, listen to and learn from their own selections--guided my teaching for 30 years. The principle of mutual respect.

#2) Jennifer Jennings, a.k.a. Eduwonkette. The smartest and least ideological ed-scholar ever to make statistics sing. I learned more from reading her analyses of complex data than anyone, with the possible exception of the late Gerald Bracey. Jennings cleverly avoided pigeonholing, however. Nobody could figure out whose team she was playing for--a priceless virtue in the highly politicized world of education scholarship.

#3) Deborah Meier. What I love about Meier is the fact that she’s done it all--reinvention of schools, documentation of success and disappointment, respectful dialogue about change--and still writes, elegantly, about the things she does not know. If everyone followed Meier’s lead, and went around asking good questions instead of broadcasting their beliefs, we’d be immeasurably closer to good and equitable schools for all kids in America.

#4) Howard Rheingold. Every BOD needs an excitable visionary, someone to point to harbingers of Things to Come, and help those of us stuck in our own mental boxes. Rheingold coined the phrase “externalization of the mind” and paints his shoes--but also teaches at various institutions of higher education, places where it’s assumed knowledge is proprietary. Gotta love that.

#5) Mrs. Mimi. I just finished edublogger Mrs. Mimi’s book, It’s Not All Flowers and Sausages: My Adventures in Second Grade, which I found surprisingly profound (especially considering that I’d read nearly every word already, in blog form). I was never one of Mrs. Mimi’s comment sisterhood, a place where teachers came to commiserate and dish about the blockheads who populate their schools. But--Mrs. Mimi deeply gets it, when it comes to the power and complexity of being a good teacher, having smart colleagues to share with, the ironies of school governance and policy demands--and how a good laugh and a margarita are essential to staying sane.

Who would you choose for your Board of Directors?

Hat tip to John Norton and Cathy Gassenheimer for this idea.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land 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.