Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Request to be Radical

"I know that this is exactly what my students need but..."
  • "I can’t do that."
  • "I’m not allowed to."
  • "That’s not how it’s done at my school."
  • "My lesson plans are already written by someone else."

Over the past few years I’m hearing things like this more and more when I do workshops with teachers around Inspired Teaching strategies.

What strikes me most in their resistance to applying these methods is the up-front acknowledgment that this is in fact what would be good for their students. Teachers are a smart bunch. As keepers of the developing intellect of our population they kind of have to be. They didn’t go into the profession to do what’s “wrong” for kids. But several times a month I hear from teachers who say that they find themselves spending a lot of time going against their beliefs in the classroom.

They battle the difficult fight between doing what keeps the people in charge of their jobs happy and doing what they believe is in the best interests of the young people in their charge.

This is not a fight teachers should be waging. With so many tiny potentials at stake their full energy should be focused on nurturing the flames of curiosity and knowledge into bonfires of possibility.

But they know, and I know, that you can’t make school what it should be for children if you’re fired from your job in the process.

So this is what I tell my doubtful colleagues:

Yes, you must teach the standards you are given and by and large they are not bad standards if we view them as guideposts on the journey of intellectual discovery.

Yes, you must turn in your lesson plans and plug them into that cumbersome grid and format so that your principal can take one quick look and be reassured that you’re teaching those standards she’s required to have you teach.

Yes, you must keep these textbooks in your classroom and find pieces of them that are relevant when people want to see that the money they invested in textbooks isn’t going to waste.


No, these requirements are not excuses for denying your students the education you know they deserve. If you must become guerrilla Inspired Teachers – grow the trees of knowledge up around your classroom so true learning can go on.

What are these trees exactly?

Student work: that you post in the hall, on the wall, in the principals’ mailbox, in classroom performances you invite others to see. If you dazzle them with what your students are capable of doing they will spend less time questioning your technique.

Research: Document your own strategies and successes and share what you find. Also, pull in outside resources for back-up. For instance, if you’re using a lot of movement in a school, where movement is frowned upon. Share an article that makes the case for this approach to raising student achievement. Your instincts aren’t alone – there are teachers and researchers like you all across the country who are similarly aware that this stuff works!

Strategic Alliances: It’s much easier to do something brave when you’re not doing it alone. Find a colleague who also wants to think outside the box and partner in your efforts. Plan together, observe each other, give and receive feedback, then when the questions come flying you have someone by your side who can help fire back.

We have to remember that even though the powers-that-be often seem to be working at cross purposes to our own goals for our students, they also didn’t enter into this profession to do what is wrong for children. Given evidence, research, and support to back an innovative approach to learning –I think we as teachers would be hard pressed to find a principal who would shoot our efforts down. Of course this takes more work than simply being compliant to the whims of the head office, but if it makes us sleep better at night (and not just out of exhaustion) because we know students are benefiting, then extra work is worth it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with your article and the call to do the right thing for students. It seems sad that this would have to be considered a "radical" act, but these are the circumstances in which educators find themselves these days. The truly radical act will be to tell the legislators that shove ridiculous state tests and NCLB down our throats that we're not going to take this anymore.