Does the first part of this headline sound familiar?
How many similar headlines have you read, or had tweeted to you? I see about a dozen a day, sometimes bouncing around my PLNosphere like an asteroid field. I admit that sometimes I bite—usually when the number is under ten and the headline hints of actual purpose and not just giddy breathlessness about the magnitude or the irrefutable coolness of the ideas being enumerated.
I ask you, though, fellow enthusiasts for the new, tech-y, exciting, and even radical: Don’t you ever feel even the least bit exhausted, or perhaps even despondent, when you see these messages? Are you really convinced that you can keep up with seventeen reasons to use Twitter in your classroom—on top of the 30 or 40 reasons you read about last week—and ten things you should never do with social media in school, not to mention twenty great apps no iPad classroom should be without? And these just before breakfast?
I’m not going to offer an excuse here, but I am going to suggest that there may be a reason that your colleagues don’t always share your unadulterated enthusiasm for the latest innovation. We have gotten into the habit of suggesting—and I’ve done it here—that there are absolutes, often promoted by the dozen or even the gross, to which educators must either subscribe in full or be considered either unworthy or just backwards, and thus doomed and damaging to kids.
I trace this development to the business press, where titles touting seven habits or eighteen keys or five strategies have a history that must go back, well, to the 1980s or so. Educators have embraced the dark shadow of business-think since about that time, perhaps an inevitable consequence of the confluence of various trends relating to accountability, active governance, expanded fundraising, accelerating campus development, and above all this idea we seem to have that only monetized innovation is worth noticing—even social entrepreneurship seems inevitably linked to money these days; but, alas, I suppose that nearly everything is. Titles with numbers seem to offer a comprehensible (“Jeepers—I just have to do these seven things to be highly effective?”) magic bullet, or at least an ammo clip with a finite number of enchanted rounds, that will solve all or at least most of our problems.
If your colleagues are proving a tough sell on something or other, and they probably are, I might suggest slowing down your rhetoric—not the ideal, I know, at least not necessarily—and dialing down the number and scale of the transformative promises with which you imbue the latest, best idea ever.
Teachers in general like change to come at them in measured doses, doses accompanied by both reasonable expectations and reasonable discussion. The key linkage, of course, is to student experience and student outcomes, but people who work with kids all day develop pretty good filters for baloney and hyperbole. They also, not so strangely, tend to bristle at ideas presented to them with the suggestion that whatever they have been doing up to now sucks (not to put too fine a point on it), and that only by adopting this new practice or app can they un-suckify their teaching. Funny how people don’t always want to hear this.
It’s really all in the presentation and then in the professional learning. Teachers want what is best for their students, and above all they want to do whatever they are supposed to do competently, working from confident understanding of why they are doing what they are doing and a sense that they can do it well. No matter what new thing we are asking them to try, we need to help them learn how.
A couple of months back I suggested here that great ideas tend to fail in schools when the idea-mongers and promoters push implementation ahead of their own deep understanding of the ideas in practice. I want to put forward the suggestion that the purveyors of giant lists of “must-dos” might just be allowing their enthusiasm to outrun their full mastery of the ideas they put forth, as worthy as these—heck, all of these, for all I know—might actually be.
But I would suggest that an audience of earnest and well-meaning, not to mention hardworking, schoolteachers might be a bit more inclined to attend if their thought leaders were to dish out ideas, and especially those that seem to come with implied mandates, in slightly smaller servings.
We’re all headed for the future, and chivvying or guilt-tripping our colleagues into headlong, panicky rushing won’t necessarily get our schools and our students there any more quickly or with any greater mastery of the skills they will need when they arrive.