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Caution: Trail Blazing Can Be Dangerous

Passion fans the flames of many desires and when well-meaning pioneers believe passionately about a cause they are willing to go to bat for, the road isn't necessarily easily traversed.

(Can you count how many cliches I was able to add to that list of analogies in one sentence?)

This is the reason why change happens so slowly.

"I know you've taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall. It always gets bloody, always. It's the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds it's threatening the game. But really what it's threatening is their livelihoods, it's threatening their jobs, it's threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it's the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people are holding the reins, have their hands on the switch.," was uttered in the movie Moneyball by John Henry at the end when Billy Beane takes the meeting with the Red Sox. Beane experimented and was successful with changing the way people looked at baseball. Folks who love the sport weren't so open-minded about his new method that looked closely at on-base percentages and other statistics, rather than gut instinct and talent.

Beane was only as good as his last win and when he didn't win the World Series, everyone forgot his amazing winning streak.

In education, it isn't much different. Many folks believe that "the way we've always done it" is right and if "it isn't broken it shouldn't be fixed". Changing education and the way we do things threaten people who have been doing things a certain way for a long time.

That isn't a good enough reason, however, to leave it as it is.

Students in the last couple of decades have changed. I graduated high school two decades ago and school looked very different even then.

When I started teaching 14 years ago, it was different. Technology was not as it is now and learners were still relatively glued to their one-armed bandits.

How can we possibly teach the way we have for the last 100 years with students who don't even come close to resembling those we taught then?

Can we all agree that learning and school should be about the students?

We are here to meet their needs in a way that works for them. Students will have plenty of time in their lives to adjust to everyone else, but now is the time we must accommodate them in order to ready them for the world outside of school.

So bravely, we must vow to do the following:

  • Stand up for what know to be best for students

  • Refuse to simply follow rules because they exist without challenging their usefulness

  • Take risks that will benefit the learners who sit before us

  • Adjust the outcomes as we go and continue to take risks until we get it right

  • Get rid of grades as that is an antiquated system that doesn't further student learning

  • Change the language by which we talk to kids about school; make standards and learning objectives student-friendly

  • Listen with an open-mind when students make suggestions to improve the learning environment

  • Empower kids to take control of their own learning and support them in their choices

  • Be as flexible as possible as it pertains to student growth and choice and try to say "yes" more

  • Don't penalize students for compliance-based issues like behavior in class or lateness of work

  • Have a growth mindset in terms of expertise and learning

  • Use technology as it supports learning and engages students

  • Commit yourself to moving away from the status quo UNLESS it directly impacts learning in a positive way

There will always be naysayers in all that we do, but we can't allow them to deter progress. We must be courageous and trod on making the essential adjustments to improve student achievement every day.

What are you doing to change the course of progress in your classroom? Please share

This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in October 2015


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