Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Be A Pioneer

In Why Educational Change is Hard, Chris Lehmann writes:
“The big problem is that we never, ever have a low cost of failure. When schools fail, kids lose. Shirky writes in Chapter 10 about how in a traditional business infrastructure, there is a natural disincentive to innovate because "more people will remember you saying yes to a failure than no to a radical but promising idea." (p. 246) I'd argue this is more true in education than in traditional businesses, again because the stakes are so high. So the educational establishment sticks to safe ideas and traditional schooling because we know that while the outcomes may not be amazing, they are predictably mediocre at worst.

The point of all this is just this: The hardest challenge facing our community is that we've done a very good job at going after the low-hanging fruit. We've done what was easiest to do... and most of us would agree that it hasn't been easy so far. To take things to the next level is going to be hard. Not impossible... and a lot easier because of the tools we have at our disposal today, but hard none-the-less. But "hard" shouldn't be the reason we don't do it.”

I need to be more like a pioneer in my field like in history so that I don’t short change my students. They risked their lives and their reputations by going places no one has ever gone before (no, I am not going to sing the Star Trek theme!) By asking myself if this is the best thing for my students, I need to get past my own fears and inadequacies in order to broaden my horizons and I need to be willing to face failure in order to help my students be successful. I think sometimes I take the easy way out and go the easiest route because I know that it has worked before so why should I try something different. Yet, how do I know that this something different won’t be even better. For example, for the past eight months I have been part of the Twitter community which I really enjoy. This is a kind of synchronous communication with people that I have chosen to communicate with in the education field and I have learned so much from this professional learning network. Then when this new opportunity came out called Plurk, I was resistant to join this new conversation but finally I bit the bullet and joined them. The best thing about it is that I love it! I am still part of a professional learning network with friends of my choice but it is easier to follow the conversation. If I hadn’t taken the risk, I would have missed out on this wonderful opportunity to grow professionally. I think I need to do the same thing in the classroom. I need to look at my students’ needs and find out what I need to do in order to best meet these needs. If I have to learn new tools and strategies, then I need to make the time and effort to do so. As mentioned above, hard shouldn’t be the reason that I don’t try.

In Accepting “Predictably Mediocre”, Will Richardson states:
“The where it’s at stuff is easy to get to, but hard to accept. And, as Chris says, our collective fear of failure, both of our schools and of our kids, is at the crux of the problem. Most are content with “predictably mediocre” schools because the risks associated with change are simply not worth it at this moment.”

“One more thing: Yesterday, when I picked Tess up from shooting (basketball) camp, she was sporting a new t-shirt, on the back of which read: ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’”

With all the negative publicity and fear of litigation, it is no wonder to me that school systems are very fearful of trying new things in schools with technology. I think one way to help would be if teachers like myself would be willing to try new things out and then willingly be examples to show administrators, school board members and legislators. I think just talking about it and inviting them into the conversations will not be enough. During some presentations I have done this past year, I have noticed that showing real life examples are more powerful than just explaining ideas and tools to the audience. Administrators, School board members and legislators are just like my students when I am explaining new things in my classroom. At first they might not understand or agree but I can’t give up trying. I need to look for new ways to show them how things work and why it is important to use in the classroom. I want to keep on trying so I don’t miss out on 100% of the opportunities that open up to me.


dwilli58 said...

Great point! Teachers need to be risk takers, then even if they fail their students will still benefit. Why? Because they'll recognize the new approach of their instructor and sense that the tested and tried way isn't always the only or even best way. As another of your posts pointed out, failure can be as good an instructor as success, and this goes for the teacher as well as the learner.

Beyond the fear of the internet issues, teachers are being made paraniod by a political system that is mainly concerned with outcomes, as opposed to affective process, which then leads to a great product. Not to rehash, but it's true.

As a former teacher, I exhort all teachers to shuck-off their fears and take a risk. Your students and you will benefit from the experience, whether it's successful or not. If it's unsuccessful, then reinvent it and try again! We need free-to-be inventive people in our society, and teachers can instill this in their students. Keep those erasers handy;-)

loonyhiker said...

dwilli58: You are so right that paranoia is really causing many teachers not willing to take risks. Plus AYP and NCLB is really taking a toll on many teachers. Thanks for commenting!