You are likely familiar with the story of the Wizard of Oz. The star, Dorothy (a young girl from Kansas), finds her way to the magical world of Oz, where she befriends a Scarecrow, a Tinman and a Cowardly Lion while on a quest to return home. With her friends, and magical ruby slippers in tow, Dorothy seeks answers and assistance from the all-powerful Wizard of Oz. Along the way to the Emerald City, they are badgered and harassed by the Wicked Witch and her flying monkey minions–encountering obstacles at nearly every turn. In the end, it turns out that Dorothy, and her friends really didn’t need miracles from the Wizard, just a little direction. They possessed the power of change all along, they just had to realize their potential and act upon it.
Consider the educational parallels. We have multiple parties–administrators, teachers, students, parents and communities (Dorothy and friends)–seeking solutions to public education dilemmas. Along the way, politicians, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs and even some within the education profession (wicked witches and minions–no offense intended) erect barriers and obstacles that impede true progress toward reform. We often look to new programs or curriculum (ruby slippers) that will magically help us arrive at educational nirvana, investing substantial amounts of money, time and energy with mixed results. However, in the end, meaningful reform has to begin with those who have the most invested–in this case, educators.
Let’s imagine for a moment, that our Oz-ian cast of characters represent those who are seeking meaningful educational reform. Upon arriving at Educational City, they seek the advice of the “all knowing” Wizard of Ed. The Wizard quickly dismisses any notion that he can magically fix “public education”, but he offers up four suggestions (and action steps) that any educator can employ to move reform in the right direction:
Phenomenal things are happening in our public schools. We need to share these ideas to counter the negative publicity that seems so pervasive and to create an atmosphere in which schools work together for the sake of improvement. Technology and social media make this a relatively easy task to accomplish. Talk, blog, tweet, and share what your school is doing to meet the needs of students.
Action Step: create professional development opportunities to help staff members gain a better understanding of the power of personal learning networks. Encourage your school staff to be active in creating, and utilizing, open-source educational tools. Share, share, share.
Recognize that “ruby slippers” are not one size fits all. There are some great programs and school models out their, but don’t assume that just because it works for one group of kids, it will work for your students. Be sure that you have a clear understanding of your student population and borrow, or develop programs/strategies that will effectively address their educational, social and emotional needs.
Action Step: develop and administer a school-wide climate survey. Include questions that help you understand student perceptions of school safety, curriculum, homework, activities and relationships. Let students give advice. Use this information to identify problem areas that are unique to your school and then take steps to address these concerns.
(3) Look Within
Tap into the expertise and leadership at your school. Challenge staff members to share their ideas with others–within your school, the district, online and at conferences. Good educators know what works and what doesn’t. We need the people on the “front lines” to be the people leading the charge when it comes to meaningful school reform, but sometimes we have to convince them that they have the power to make that happen.
Action Step: design a “round-robin” staff development day where selected teachers lead presentations and practice activities related to topics of interest (e.g. social networking in class, philosophical chairs, problem-based learning, making homework meaningful, class blogging). Staff members would then choose from a menu and spend the day learning from colleagues.
(4) Challenge Your Thinking
In order to make true progress toward meaningful education reform, we will have to critically examine the current system and challenge our way of thinking with regard to many aspects of public education. We can not continue to do things, simply because that is they way they have always been done. As Will Rogers once said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” We need to make sure we are not just passing time…critical thought and action are required.
Action Step: create a space in your school (physical, or virtual) where you post tweets, blog posts, and articles for review and discussion. Don’t be afraid to post comments/ideas you think might be controversial. Challenge people’s way of thinking about education–pushing new ideas and perspectives.
The beauty of this is that, just like in the Wizard of Oz, the power to change comes from within. We don’t need more funding to collaborate. We don’t need to rely on outsiders to tell us what our student’s need…we can just ask them. We don’t need a professional development “program” to utilize experts on our own campus and we don’t need conferences, public speakers or politicians to challenge the way we think about education. In fact, we can’t afford to wait for these things to happen (or to see if they happen).
As educators, we have the ability to affect positive school reform, we just have to realize it and act on it.