Change Begins with Me

cc flickr photo by R/DV/RS

The reason things stay the same is because we stay the same.  For things to change, we must change.  ~ Eric Jensen

Lately, I have been struggling with the issue of change.  Specifically, I am looking at one area of our school that I believe has become a vicious cycle of despair for both our staff and students — homework.  Teachers assign it.  Students don’t complete it.  Grades drop.  Frustration levels rise.  It is a system that is not working.  My purpose in writing this post is not to address ideas related to my “homework” quandary (although I would be appreciative of your suggestions).  Instead, I would like to focus on reflection and change, and the role that a professional learning network plays in this process.

Two comments about the change process recently came across my Twitter stream and caught my attention.!/mcleod!/tomaltepeter

Both tweets allude to an inherent danger in the change process…the tendency to assume that change begins with someone else.  It is so easy to believe that “we” are doing the right things and that it is “them” that needs to change.  Parents need to be more supportive.  The kids need to improve their attitude.  The state needs to give us more resources.  All of this may be true, but focusing on these types of statements, when it is evident that there is a need for change, excuses us from an important professional obligation — reflective practice.

If you are an educational practitioner, at any level, and you do not regularly question your teaching and/or leadership practices, you may want to give it some consideration.  Resting on our laurels–allowing complacency to set in–dooms us to more of the same and classrooms/schools that are not meeting the needs of students.  As Will Rogers was fond of saying, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

But, how do we ensure that we are sufficiently challenging our assumptions and participating in meaningful professional reflection? Schools have traditionally relied upon “in-house” professional development to train educators, with the occasional conference mixed in for good measure.  While neither of these methods should be dismissed, limiting professional growth opportunities to these types of activities is unlikely to generate systemic and meaningful change.  Educators need exposure to a much wider array of ideas, pedagogical methods, and challenging dialogue than can be generated through the limited time and resources traditionally afforded by our school systems.

This is where this discussion comes full circle.  Change begins with me. I am not going to rely on someone else to provide me with development opportunities as an educational professional.  I am going to find others, through my professional learning network, who will challenge my way of thinking, offer advice and suggestions, and share their ideas about what works in our schools and classrooms.  If you are serious about your profession, I would encourage you to do the same.

As you consider the art of reflective practice, ask yourself:

  1. Do you belong to any professional organizations?
  2. What efforts do you make to connect with other educators outside of your school, or district?
  3. How often do you read professional publications, current books about best practice, or articles relevant to your role as an educator?
  4. Do you designate time to review your practices and candidly reflect on what is going well and what isn’t?
  5. Are you comfortable seeking out assistance from colleagues?  Are you comfortable being uncomfortable?
  6. Do you have a professional learning network (or know what one is)?
  7. Do you read blog posts, participate in #edchat, or take part in discussions that challenge your current thoughts on educational practice?
  8. Within education, what is your passion (hopefully you have one)?
  9. How well do you know your students?
  10. Are you willing to change?

These are not easy questions — being brutally honest about our practices and committment level can cause some discomfort.  In fact, I have spent a good part of the last several months scrambling to feel like anything is working, and believe me, I have been pushed and challenged on many issues.  But, I also know that meaningful change begins with me…and with you. For things to change for the better, we must change.


  1. I love the quote: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” I completely agree! Being truly self-reflective is a highly effective way for teachers (and other professionals) to make meaningful changes to their practice. Being self-critical, questioning your own practice as well as knowing where you do a great job is really important to be able to move forward. Once you become truly self-reflective, then coaching and mentoring is more effective and peer led learning more productive, all because of the deeper understanding you will have in your own practice!

    October 7, 2011
  2. Dave said:

    Being reflective and changing is essential to growth. While I am no longer a member of any professional groups or journal subscriptions, I pursue growth and change through bettering myself and advancing my career. In my six years of teaching, I have become a National Board Certified Teacher and a North Carolina Principal’s Fellow. In less than two years, I will be an administrator. I cannot believe the complacency I see in my fellow educators. It is not the example I ever wanted to show my students.

    As for Homework…
    I have some thoughts on homework:
    1) Give it to the students who need the practice. It is not punishment it is necessary for their growth (and to close the gap)
    2) It is practice. Grade it for effort and completion, not correctness.
    3) Do not assign homework for the sake of assigning it. That is nonsense. I do not go home and mow my lawn everyday just to say I did.
    4) As an administrator, you could easily get teachers together to vote on a maximum percentage of an overall grade homework can account for at your school. My classes were always 20-25% at the most. Sometimes, it was only 10%. A student could theoretically never turn in any work and still pass the class. However, if you are using the first three strategies for assigning meaningful homework and the student(s) are not doing the practice, passing is probably not happening either.

    Schools (teachers, and districts) mandating homework, or mandating zero homework, are out of touch with reality. In education you cannot be on one side of the homework line. You have to understand it is necessary at times. What if no one in band practiced outside of school? Friday night football would not be so emotional. Homework also teaches students about real life and prepares them for the future. How often do adults get to go home and do nothing? There are bills to pay, dinners to cook, chores to complete, and errands to run. I think homework instills important time management skills in our students they will need and use for the rest of their lives.

    October 7, 2011
  3. Mary Ann Reilly said:

    As I read the post I wondered by setting. As a school leader, how are educators occasioned to be reflective? What would a walk through a school environment suggest about what is valued?

    Similarly, the homework “problem” is really a symotom of what is and isn’t valued, and the tensions between what is valued at school and beyond the school.

    In each situation, the environment reveals how we value/fail to value thinking, caring, erring, joy, reflection. We can have all the checklists in the world we want, but where inside the school day would one find time, intention, and structure to be thoughtful, reflective, and caring by faculty and students?

    October 9, 2011
  4. S. Soni said:

    So true what you say about reflective practice. Am presently doing a study on it and in reflection am amazed at its power. I enjoyed the ideas you share.

    October 12, 2011
  5. Change is supplementary and necessary, I will urge every student
    T to have gratitude of attitude, because nowadays kids are rude especially from the European side, you shake you parents and say good morning…if you check Nigeria,dey kneel as a girl and prostrate as a boy to greet their parents

    October 2, 2016

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