Teaching Profession Opinion

Educators With Ideas for Solutions: Speak Up!

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 27, 2014 4 min read
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We have cause for concern. There are no front-page articles, or newscasts reporting on the districts and schools that have successfully implemented mandated changes. There are no front-page articles or newscasts about schools in which students take required tests as just a natural part of their school year. These places are mentioned as footnotes, sometimes even being referred to as having ‘drunk the Kool-Aid’ which is a frightening hyperbole. Is this a type of bullying that keeps those who have figured out how to lead this change effort, quiet?

In a Huffington Post Blog Post, Francesca Warren writes,

...there are educators who are petrified of speaking out against the wrongs we are currently witnessing in education today...walk into any school and ask a teacher to go on record to discuss the ills in public education. Instead of getting an abundance of answers you will be met with a deafening silence.

According to Warren, that is true in some places, and sadly so. Fear of retribution for speaking one’s opinion indicates an environment that is neither open nor safe. And no learning environment should be that way. There are those who see the changes being required in our schools as a bad thing. And certainly there have been implementation strategies that have been nothing more than that.

But what are we really talking about? Change has come and power has shifted. Why? Based upon data and experience, schools are not preparing all students to be competent adults who will be able to succeed in the 21st century workplace. How many among us can truly stand up and disagree? There are practices and policies that we have clung to that arise from a 19th century model and served well in many places for the entire 20th century. If we don’t have a plan, we need one. Every educator, across the country, needs a plan. Our answer must be more than just objection. Accompanying any opposition must be a bundle of suggestions.

This is America and as such, freedom of speech is a valued right. All are permitted to say what they think without reprisal. And, as we have seen of late, it is an imperative that we learn how to engage with those who disagree with us. Disagreement is a result of two divergent opinions. The most obvious is the nations polarized political parties. But as we have recommended and supported we believe that engaging in open, honest, and respectful dialogue with those with whom we disagree can be the only route to solutions. Without that process, we will continue to have two (or more) factions pulling at the issues like a tug of war and solutions will only last until one side pulls harder.

Even within our field there is a divergence of thinking. There are those who believe the Common Core is dangerous and standardized testing child torture. While others believe the Common Core can help improve teaching and learning and standardized testing can be used as one measure of progress. That is most certainly a healthy conversation to have as we stretch to transform our schools.

We need to change and we need help. The idea that American schools are falling behind has been a political football since the 1960’s. Since then we have successfully welcomed into our classrooms, disabled children who previously were sent to special schools, and a growing number of children who do not speak English. We have seen the discovery and increase of children with autism, added half a century more of history and literature, scientific knowledge, and new teaching strategies. We have worked hard and pushed up against the boundaries of the paradigm in which we work. We are up against the wall.

We want the attention of those concerned. But rather than having them come up with the solution, can we leverage their concern and get their help to adapt and become inclusive of differing ideas? One central theme from educators is that we want control, or at least input, to the change, to its pace and to its accountability components. So let’s do that. Let’s push back with alternatives. What, as a profession, do we suggest as a solution to:

  • the low graduation rates for our poor and minority children ?
  • the need for more technology infrastructure in our schools and the development of its instructional application?
  • the need for ongoing, rich and meaningful, targeted professional development for our teachers and leaders?
  • get educators to agree on what 21st century schools should look like?
  • tind a way to fund education?

If those legislating the changes want to improve schools, let’s get better at voicing an alternative to their plan. Let’s have that plan encompass more than a demand for more money. That 20th century strategy will no longer work. Those demands from us must now be associated with answers to the hard questions and timelines and yes, accountability for us and for our students. How else will they learn what it is we seek to do in schools, and to what, as professionals, we will commit? Only if we get better at speaking vision with a unified voice will it be heard. Maybe then, those who are mandating changes will pause, listen and support us. That can’t happen until we state the problems, clarify the questions and pose our solutions and answers. We have to be willing to do that or we will continue to be the rope in a tug of war. Without a unified voice and vision, education will change one school, one district at a time, hidden pockets of a future others cannot see.

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