Embrace the Flavor of the Month

Teachers get hit over the head with a lot of reform initiatives.  Whether in the name of innovation or student learning, administrators tend to believe all requests for change in programs and practice will lead to improvement.  It can be exhausting.  Administrators, myself included, are notorious for assuming our own effectiveness, and we are often rewarded for aggressive rollouts and quick implementation.

The churn of reform in schools, a historical constant in education that Tyack and Cuban call “tinkering,” has only intensified.  In a world where woodshops are rebranded “maker spaces” and tinkering is a virtue, the introduction of new initiatives is only likely to intensify.  This rising tide of innovation signals danger for educators who struggle to “go with the flow.”  There is a very real threat when the reform flavor of the month is being offered by the person who evaluates your performance.

My advice?  First, keep asking the difficult questions.  What is the connection between this reform and what we know about how students learn?  What is our evidence of success?  We should not confuse innovation evangelism with concrete progress.  Leadership that is serious about pushing learning outcomes should embrace critical inquiry into what really works.  You are justified in your assumption that most bandwagons never reach the station.

Second, don’t squander your opportunity to learn.  Yes, it is easy to interpret a call to innovate and change as a repudiation of your current skills and strengths. It certainly can be hard to entertain the possibility of strengthening your practice when you sense that your hard work and effort are not valued.  Resist your defensive instinct.  Don’t retreat so quickly to your intellectual and emotional places of safety.    Your students need you to be a learner, and the reform du jour will likely bring with it additional – albeit temporary – access to learning resources.

Third and finally, have fun.  While insecurity nips at all of our heels, a little novelty does not have to shatter your sense of professional competence.  To the contrary, trying something new will likely enrich and enliven your daily experience.  Think of it as a blind date.  Admittedly, you know it probably won’t work out (especially if it’s arranged by your principal), but the sense of anticipation and surprise can make it worth the effort.   If the date is a disaster, you will have a great story to tell your friends.  Who knows, you might even form a new long-term relationship.

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