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