Saturday, March 5, 2011
Four years ago, in my then second year at my current school, the tension was so high it was almost unbearable. I had taken a team away to a Professional Learning Communities conference in my first year, and having already found a mechanism to put collaborative time in the timetable for teachers at another school and seen positive results, we created enough of a groundswell amongst our staff to include collaborative time at my new school. At the same time, we put in an academic intervention system that had bi-weekly callouts and opportunities for students to make up work with a subject-specific teacher. And then we tackled the 'no late mark' issue. This was all in the span of about 8 school months (even though summer holidays were sprinkled in there). The changes were swift, and I will be very blunt--it was incredibly challenging for our staff, and to use "Survivor" terms, I'm pretty sure that if I could have been "voted off the island", many people would have "doused my torch" pretty early in the game.
I know, I know. All of the veteran leaders out there are going "Wow, what an idiot. Why would you do all those things in such a short period of time?". In many ways, I would agree with the experts--it is best when things DO come from the grassroots, from our wonderful teachers that are working with students every day. But my struggle was (and still is) with the pace at which change occurs in education: I just could not reconcile the "Knowing-Doing Gap" (previous post) in my own mind. Creating time within the timetable for teachers to collaborate and improve the craft of teaching is best practice (and yes, I know the new term is 'promising practice', but I am sticking with best practice on this one), as is having an systematic set of interventions that ensure student success. Assigning late marks IS a toxic grading practice (Douglas Reeves). So if there are things in a school that are not commensurate with our vision for the school, or are just not right, do we wait for the groundswell from the masses? I ask this rhetorically, because I struggle with this each day. And I never want to profess to know the answer, because I don't.
If you have the answer to this question, and it includes things like...
- "you can't go too quickly with change"
- "change takes time"
- "the change cycle says..."
- "you need to get people on board"
- "develop your critical mass"
well, I know this. I have studied the change cycle endlessly. I have experimented with different methods. I have waited to get people on board. I have charged like a bull through a china shop. I have been at all parts of the spectrum from what would be perceived as insane dictator (or as Jonathan Martin posted in the "19 Es of Excellence" "Enraged"--probably a general descriptor of my personality) right over to encouraging people to be completely autonomous, and all points in between. They all have many pros and just as many cons.
But one thing I do know--change is CHANGING. The pace at which the world is changing around us is exponentially increasing, and the choice to keep up is methodically being taken out of our hands as students and parents are much more free and capable of finding alternatives to what we may choose to offer. And the hardest part is, we KNOW this. And we have to do something about this.
Where is the fine line between push and pull? Encouragement and push? Top down and grassroots. Stepping on the gas, coasting, and or hitting the brakes. Truthfully, I don't know, and I might not ever know. But what I do know is that I continuously strive to become more adaptable. I have to embrace change. I have to be comfortable with the fact that there is a wave of ideas and knowledge that is crashing over top of me, and I need to develop the skills to pop up out of the surf and keep my head above water, knowing full-well that another wave is coming. It is not to discredit what has been done in the past. It is not to say that what we are doing "isn't any good", because it is. But we need to continuously gauge which skills that our students need to be exposed to, and adapt our practices to make sure we are changing as fast as we need to so that we can keep up to the pace of change.
As I am now in my 5th year at my school, and I am very proud of the changes that have been made: the success of our students and our staff continues to be amazing. I believe we have become much more adaptable as a group. And with the movement towards creating an environment that emphasizes the skills of a 21st Century Learner (from my definition in response to Tom Schimmer's great post on the Elevator Answer of 21st Century Learning)
"helping students learn to use collaborative means to exponentially multiply their knowledge, to develop critical thinking abilities to evaluate information, and to foster communication skills that will allow them to contribute to the global and multicultural collective in a way that demonstrates their individual creativity"
I hope that we will continue to become more "educationally nimble" as we move forward in education.
So how do you keep "educationally nimble"?