Our new superintendent has initiated her tenure through this post’s titular phrase. While I’m not enamored of the phrase “doing school,” I’m all for “thinking different” and I hope my fellow teachers don’t, as is to often the case, approach this invitation from our superintendent with the perennial “change fatigue.” However, we’re two days into the student year, and five days into the teacher year and the #(hashtag) we have on twitter for doing school different in my district is populated by a mere 15 tweets.
If we’re “doing school different,” then the royal “we” on #pvsddoschooldifferent represents a population of four. And sure…it’s early in the year. But what better time to try to alter the approach to education than now, the beginning, the point at which we set the culture, set the expectations, set the course, and steel ourselves for the journey ahead? If we expect to wait and see, if we expect that we’ll be ready at some later point to “do school different” we are sorely mistaken and ignore the vast experience we have of how school years move into our lives, dominate our time, and leave us exhausted, treasuring the growth and binding the wounds the journey brings.
There is no better time than now to “do school different.” (Again, I’m going to apologize for the phrasing. It sits poorly with me. It’s not that I mind it’s echoing of the famous Apple ad campaign for the iMac. It’s just the “doing school” part. But I can live with it, I can make it work, I CAN do school different, because I believe that if I don’t, I assure myself of irrelevancy. Over a decade ago the vice president of Microsoft’s Education division opened a talk to an auditorium full of teachers with the words, “Your students are learning without you.” It’s more true now than ever.)
My distric has a superintendent who is inviting us to take risks, to take risks, and to turn the failures that will inevitably derive from those risks into positive learning experiences rather than marks against our person and profession. The invitation is a clean, fresh, airy elixir that blows away the stagnant, hanging fog of “the way we’ve always done things because we’re good enough.”
I don’t know how many of my fellow teachers are on social media like twitter in order to build professional learning networks. I’d venture from the quick poll our Superintendent took at our opening day convocation that it’s a small percentage. I also don’t know how many of us are blogging about our experiences in the classroom. Given the time that takes, I’d imagine it’s a similarly small percentage.
Maybe that’s where we start…we start with “transparency.” We start by breaking down the walls of the classroom and inviting the world inside. That takes courage, it takes a willingness to hang one’s professional self in the open air and to potentially suffer the “slings and arrows” of whatever the blogosphere/twitterverse will launch at it. From my own experience, these places are far more helpful than harmful. In fact, they represent the most intense and informative Prof. Learning I’ve done in almost a decade.
At the top of this paragraph I offer the words of General Eric Shinseki. I offer them not to motivate through fear but rather to remind us that teachers are responsible for the future. The future is not a place and it is not a time, it is the minds we help grow through learning each day in our classrooms. The future is not an abstract concept, it is real, and it is human, and it is changing. It will change without us, in spite of us, and regardless of us, for we, through our invention and innovation, have given it that power. If we do not change ourselves, we develop little in our class but mediocrity and the increasing urge for our students to go elsewhere to find culture in which they can cultivate their genius.
(For many, the question is, I believe, not “Why should I change?” but rather, “How do I change?” For a good start on this, I suggest the book whose cover appears in the featured image of this blog post (AJ Juliani and John Spencer’s Empower). I also suggest reading this blog post from AJ Juliani: Poking Holes in Pockets of Innovation. )