Thursday, September 1, 2016

It is time to do that which is hard...

Well, it’s that time of year again when, with a big yawn and stretch, our schools slowly awake from their summer slumber as staff and students return after their annual summer hiatus. Soon the halls will once again be filled with life. This is a period of expectation with the whole year before us. The trials and tribulations of last year that wore us down have faded and we are emotionally charged, expectant, and ready to embrace the school year before us.

These are turbulent times in public education as schools adapt to the new realities of the cultural shifts affecting our society. Reflecting upon the challenges facing public education in our country I am forced to ask myself when as a nation did we stop dreaming big? From manifest destiny, the building of the intercontinental railroad and the development of the assembly line to the establishment of our National Parks, the construction of the interstate highway system, and travel to the moon Americans have always dreamed big. While the execution of those dreams was at times questionable and the steps taken may have created controversy, it was the vision, drive and willpower, both individually and collectively, to achieve greatness that propelled this country to leadership on the world stage.

On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy delivered what is commonly referred to as his "We choose to go to the moon" speech.

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.

President Kennedy committed us to reaching the moon within the decade of the 1960’s. He had no idea whether we would succeed or fail. It was a big risk, but one which he believed was essential for our country. He recognized that, even if we were to fail, the advances created in the attempt alone were worth the effort. So he took that risk and led us down the difficult path towards what seemed at the time an unreachable goal.  

When did we as a country stop doing that which is hard? When did we become a risk adverse myopic society fixated on transactions lacking the patience and political willpower for large scale transformational change? Such change is often difficult to measure, except over time, requires working together to build consensus and will entail mistakes and setbacks along the way.  The polarization of our political environment prioritizes Party over progress, maintaining power over doing that which is right, and consequently tweaks rather than transforms our current systems. This is particularly true with respect to public education.

One personal quality that I admit can be both a boon and a burden is that I am not good at moderation. I have a strong tendency to go “all in”. About seven years ago I decided to start running for the first time. Within eight months of that first run, I ran my first marathon. Shortly thereafter I began competing in triathlons. Within one year of making that decision I competed in my first half-ironman triathlon. I relay these examples not to brag, although I must admit I am proud of those accomplishments, but to provide context and understanding for the following: When asked what my goal is as an educator my response is always, “To reform public education”.

I am not so arrogant to believe that I can actually accomplish this on my own, but my goal remains as I take every opportunity to work with likeminded individuals to collectively change our educational system. The work is hard, but necessary, as our system must change to meet the needs of today’s students and society. In my district I encourage my teachers to take risk, try something new and work together to change our practices as much as the possible within the constraints of our current system. However, if we are to make real, substantive, and lasting progress we need to change the current educational polices that work to inhibit that change through a primary focus on measuring and accountability rather than innovation. 

Consequently, to the teacher in the classroom I ask, what are you doing to utilize the latest technologies and change your practices as new opportunities for your students become available? To the administrator in the building I ask, how are you supporting those teachers by encouraging and modeling these practices through your own actions? And, most importantly, to our policy makers I ask, what are you doing to listen to all educators (rather than a select chosen few) and support necessary changes to our system providing flexibility for growth and transformation? I ask these questions not to criticize, but to encourage you to think beyond the immediate to what is possible.           

It is time to stop merely doing that which is easy or expedient and work together to do that which is hard by instituting necessary reform. It is time to put aside Party to do that which is best for our country and its children. It is time to remember what truly made America great finding the vision and courage to set long term goals while practicing the patience to see the process through. It’s time to stop arguing over increasing the cap on charter schools or what new test we will use or how to prove educators are doing their jobs, thus breaking this fixation on tweaking policies that have proven ineffective at providing desired results. It’s a new school year and it’s time to do, once again, that which is hard. Dream big and go “all in” to reform public education. 

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