Real change is slow. It’s discouraging. But it’s worth it


Teaching | Thursday, January 23, 2014

Real change is slow. It’s discouraging. But it’s worth it

Real change is slow. It's discouraging. But take heart ...

These are exciting times in education. Real, meaningful education reform is upon us. That’s enough to encourage or to discourage — or to feel like this guy. (flickr / dbking)

I have come across so much inspirational material recently.

There’s Grant Lichtman’s TED Talk about his trip around the country to interview people at 60 schools and his revelation that John Dewey’s philosophies about education still hold true today.

There’s Will Richardson’s TED Talk about what exciting educational times we’re living in but what tough circumstances educators are facing.

And there’s Dan Meyer’s TED Talk about making math instruction real and useful for students. I’m not a math teacher, but how he engages his students inspires me.

There are so many great educators out there that are offering new ideas — entire new educational paradigms — that would revolutionize education for children and change the future.

When I see those videos, read those blogs or hear those speakers, I have two feelings:

Encouragement and discouragement.

I’m encouraged because there is so much we can do in education these days.

  • We have a wealth of information at our fingertips.
  • We can talk to or write to anyone in the world for free with an Internet connection.
  • We can create pictures, audio, video, text and share them with anyone in the world.

Basically, if we want to learn something these days, we can learn it. Teachers are no longer the gatekeepers to the information.

The world is changing so quickly. Our students need to be able to adapt to those changes so they don’t get run over by them. And if we’re preparing them for the world today, then we’re getting them ready for irrelevance as soon as they graduate.

So education has to change.

And that’s where the discouragement hits.

Change is slow. And difficult. And messy.

Change is hard, especially when the entire system is set up against you. Education has been virtually the same for more than a century. When you realize it’s outdated, that’s a big boulder to try to stop and change directions … especially if you try to do it by yourself.

This year, I have tried to make some big changes in my classroom. Two of the biggest are probably going (mostly) paperless in favor of Google Apps for Education and connecting my classes to others by way of Skype.

They have been great successes so far. My students are creating and collaborating with Google Apps in ways that they hadn’t before. (Plus, the lack of paper has got to be great for the planet — and the school’s line item for paper in the budget.) Plus, my classes have met and spoken Spanish with classes from the United States and Spain. We’re setting up second and third Skypes so they can continue to share their learning together.

It gets frustrating, though, because many days in my class feel the same as they have for years. It’s those days that make me wonder, “Am I really the solution to the irrelevant schools problem? Or am I contributing to it?”

Like I said, encouragement and discouragement.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I am trying my best to be the solution. I’m working every day to create an atmosphere that will make my students more ready for their uncertain future.

One step at a time. Persisting over the weeks, months and years.

I try not to see these inspiring presentations, videos and blogs as a discouragement in my quest to make my class relevant to my students’ present and future.

I try to see them as Grant Lichtman, Will Richardson, Dan Meyer and countless others probably intended them to be.

Inspirational. Empowering. Saying, “You can do it. Keep up the good work.”

These are exciting times. Be encouraged.

What’s your take on all the changes — or the potential to change — in education today? How does it make you feel? Leave your thoughts in a comment below!

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  • Will Fanguy says:

    It’s takes time, patience, and effort. Without all three, change won’t happen (or if it does, it won’t be worth it). Great post, Matt. Something all educators should try to remember.

  • Chris James says:

    Matt – change is the easiest thing in the world. Just start. Momentum in our system is not a function of physics, but choices. Every day we convince another teacher (and via them, students / parents / administrators / politicians / policymakers) to change, we’re slowing the momentum TOWARDS what’s not working, and growing the momentum TOWARDS what works better.

    Dora didn’t break the net, holding her friend captive – she swam and swam and swam until she convinced the rest to swim with her.

    JUST KEEP SWIMMING Matt! I’m changing directions. Then we get one more. And then one more. And then one more… 🙂

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