Being a teacher at this point in history can be an undeniably frustrating experience. We have politicians with no classroom experience writing curriculum from soap boxes, special interest groups chastising teachers for their supposed role in losing government money, parents calling calling principals demanding grades be raised so that their children can be accepted to a college that will plunge them into suffocating debt, and on top of all that, colleagues who staunchly refuse to adopt what you feel to be the simplest of technologies.
I’m here to tell you that your principles are not wrong, but your approach might be. Leading whole staff workshops or discussions are often fruitless and if you have ever led one or attended one you know that is true. There are a couple of reasons that these large workshops fail in my experience. One of them is that teachers are notorious multi-taskers who will take any opportunity they can to goof off during your important presentation like grading papers or scheduling parent conferences. But the main reason I have found for the futility of large presentations is that the presenter has a very difficult time making the material relevant for everyone. If you can’t answer the question, “How is this going to help my students tomorrow?” in ten seconds or less, you’ve lost them. But do not despair. What do we as teachers do when the politics and gaming of the system become too much to bear? We retreat to the sanctity of our own classrooms, where between those four walls, magic happens. In that room we are make things happen and we affect the world for the better one student at a time.
Over time I have discovered that this is precisely the approach to take when it comes to changing and innovating your school. If you really want to see measurable change before they give you a gold watch and you move to Del Boca Vista you need to continue to think big, but begin to act small. Confused? Here is the plan:
1. First do it yourself
- Whether it is a new technological toy or the latest pedagogical technique you had better make sure that it really works and that you really know how to use it before you try to extol its virtues to others. If you don’t do this, you know as well as I do that the naysayers will poke holes in it and the status quo will beat your burgeoning revolution into a bloody pulp.
2. Pick your target
- Pay attention to your staff.
- Listen to who is saying things that might suggest that they are open to trying new things.
- Find out what they are already working on
3. Move in for the change
- Approach this person in a casual way, either in the hallway or pop into their room as you are walking by (curiously these people who are open to change frequently have their doors open)
- Show them how something you are doing could make what they are already doing easier
4. Follow-up and support
- Once you have introduced this person to whatever it is, be sure to follow up with them to make sure that they are not getting frustrated and abandoning it. How often have you attended some workshop on the new-new thing only to get no follow up support? How many of those new-new things have any staying power?
- Don’t be a know-it-all. Let them show you something about whatever it is that you don’t know (even if you already know it). This will boost their self-confidence and make them excited to continue.
Try this technique at your school and see if over time your influence doesn’t expand, and remember to stay positive no matter the setbacks. No one ever said that being a change-agent was easy!