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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Will We Really "Do What It Takes?"

This post is motivated by the numerous year-end -- new-year posts about making 2008 a good year. A couple of posts from Will created a good conversations that were related. A portion of my comment to Will's New Year post follows:

I’ve been reading several people lately, reflecting, genuflecting, and peering into the future. “Be The Change” is becoming a common theme. I like it, but I wonder how strong we will stay if being the change truly costs us something…I think I’ll make that my New Year’s post. It’s easy to say we will “do what it takes” before we understand what it’s going to take to get the job done.

People say they want change. Oh, how many times I have heard in meetings, "We have to do what it takes to get the job done." Or, "The only thing that is consistent is change." On a personal level, I accepted a job where I knew no one, left things that were familiar, and moved hours away from my family and my wife's family, based on the answer a group of people gave to the question, "Are you willing to do what it takes to make this work?" They answered, "yes" and 5 months later they dissolved the organization because the clientele was not who they had hoped to "serve."

I learned a valuable lesson that terrible, horrible, rotten, no-good year.
I could go on and discuss the role of leadership, but I will concisely say the difference between a leader and everyone else, is they know what they want as well as what they don't want. Further, they know how to get what they want.

There are, as I see it (and I am more than willing to hear the thoughts of others), a few things people who are quick to discuss the need for change do not consider:
  1. Change requires sacrifice. Not that people will die, but some people may have to lose their jobs. That may mean principals, superintendents, board members, politicians, and teachers. Some need to lose their jobs. Some may lose jobs without wanting to, others may lose them voluntarily - as a lamb led to slaughter, so to speak.
  2. Change requires an acceptance of a certain amount of injury due to "friendly fire." What do I mean? Simply that some of the friends we currently have, who are unwilling to change for whatever reason, can no longer be considered our allies. You know...the teacher who helped you get your job, but still wears out the copy machine with daily handouts of math problems...they will probably not help much in the revolution.
  3. Change requires communication/reporting in the traditional mediums. We can blog, wiki, and tweet amongst ourselves, but this will not create the change we blog, tweet, and wiki about. This can create an "underground" resource for those who seek to cause change, but it is not the place that will lead the change. To create change, people will have to adopt the "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." Unfortunate, most people don't even know they should be mad (see number 6).
  4. The change needed is revolutionary, not evolutionary. Evolution, for those who have faith in this theory, takes millions of years to see the change. Revolution, for those who accept the coup theory, is rather cataclysmic. Without someone ready to take over after the change, the situation is more unstable than before. How many teachers are really ready for that responsibility? Not just a reader of this and other blogs, but look down your hallways and answer that question. Who will remain? Who will be ready to forge ahead?
  5. Change will require a true game-plan. Is there really an organizational plan for a 21st century classroom, school, or system? There are pieces, but politicians will not give up control of the Education System unless they see organization that will allow them some level of authority. They yield too much POWER to give it up. Most politicians are not in politics for the money, they want the power. It is the textbook publishers, testing agencies, and curriculum suppliers who make money (and I'm not naive to think that politicians don't get some kind of "kickback").
  6. Change will require the "parents in the middle" to care about their child's future opportunities. Parents of children with special needs have IDEA and other laws to make sure their kids have individualized attention. Parents with children who are considered gifted usually have the time, resources, and clout to make sure their children are given the best opportunities. The parents of the remaining +/- 80% are the ones who have to join the conversation. How will we reach them? Probably not through blogs or school newsletters.
It's great that people want to "Be The Change" (ala Ghandi), but they need to truly count the cost of their resolution. With so many people unwilling to be the change in their simple "lose weight" scenario, it is hard for me to believe anyone is really willing to be the change for something as big as national education system.

That does not mean one cannot be the change in their own classroom. It likely has to be done covertly. One of the reasons, a very strong reason, I turned to blogging and networking (such as I do) with the 172 RSS feeds I follow is for the support I needed emotionally to think it is worth my time to try. The mistake I have made over the past three years is to think that those teachers and leaders I cared about, and thought would care enough about students and teaching to move into the 21st century with their practices, were not willing to give up their personal traditions and devotion to the status quo. A mistake I won't soon repeat.

So, to those who seek to "Be The Change" I will be your cheerleader. You will remain on my hero list. If you choose to be the covert, insider who seeks to assist the coup from the inside, I will be your compatriot. What I have learned from the past few years, is that we all have our own battles. When the straight-forward advance does not work, you may try to flank left or right. When that doesn't work, you try something else. What will you try in 2008?

Photo: http://eskar.dk/andreas/wanting_change.JPG

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At 5:17 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

Ouch...because I'm overweight, that means that I can't stick to change?

"It's great that people want to "Be The Change" (ala Ghandi), but they need to truly count the cost of their resolution. With so many people unwilling to be the change in their simple "lose weight" scenario, it is hard for me to believe anyone is really willing to be the change for something as big as national education system."



At 5:42 PM, Blogger .mrsdurff said...

genuflecting? that's humorous! change is costly to be sure - what else do you want - i have already given my life...

At 6:48 PM, Blogger Ric Murry said...

@miguel - You and me both :-)

I know you understand my point. I think the commitment to change something as big as education requires more dedication than a commitment to losing weight. If we are so quick to give up on a diet (because it's hard, because we don't see immediate results, etc.), we are even more likely to give up on changing something more outside of our control (like systemic change in public education).

At 7:03 PM, Blogger Ric Murry said...


Long-time fan Mrs. Durff. Thanks for finding me. You have indeed given your life. So have I. So has Miguel. So have most of us in the blogosphere, or we wouldn't be willing to put our views on the line for others to critique.

The thing about writing in blogs, and conversing in our online network, is that we are "preaching to the preachers." Kim Cofino recently said something about this not long ago: http://tinyurl.com/ypwb6a

So what I have written may not fully apply to most of my readers. However, to answer your question, I think those of us who have given our lives have to figure out how our sacrifice is going to help others change. Will we change the system? Will we change our colleagues? Will we change ourselves? Will we change our communities? Will we change our students? THEN, how we will change what we seek to change...from the outside in (Richardson, Warlick, et. al.) or from the inside out (most of the rest of us)?

Thanks Durff!

At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Mike Parent said...

I just found your blog through a Beyond School post link. I love what you have to say and added you to my feeds for weekly reading on the topic of education.

As a high school AP, I know too well what it is like to be in the game and what to change the way we play. I envision a gradeless school, a school rooted in international and digital literacy, founded in projects, not dittos and homework, and one which utilizes open source software rather than the fleecing and pricy traditional OS crap (I also think we should be teaching HTML and Linux as languages). I am alone. Many of my colleagues see no need to make these changes. What has been done will be done, and some say should be done.

I liken the resistance to the technophobes that Robert M. Pirsig described in his Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenence ( abook I forced my sophomore honors kids to read when I taught English years back). Pirsig said that they are so afraid of the technology becasue they do not understand how and why it works. So too keep from feeling and looking stupid, they reject it. Teachers, admins, and parents are rejecting the new school of schooling.

On the lone ranger side, I just applied for a Director of Curriculum position in a NJ district. The job posting said they were looking for someone who could bring the modern technologies into the pedagogical practices from K-12. If I get the interview, let's see if they welcome my revolutionary message - change or die or kill the future of our country. Take your pick.

I'll let you know if I get the interview and what happens if I get chance to sit and discuss the new school of schooling. If I get the job, I plan to be fired for being too radical. And that pressure will come from the parents, not the schools. That I guarantee.

I'll keep reading you! Great to find you!

At 11:58 AM, Blogger Ric Murry said...

Mike, thanks for the kind words and support. I will now look you up and begin to follow your ideas as well. I'll also take a look at motorcycle maintenance. Obvious analogies are present. Take care and best of luck in NJ.


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