Is it utopic to want education to be all of these things? Is it unrealistic and impossible? After all, It can’t be all things to all people. How can we expect so much of a system? Furthermore, a system, which many of us would argue, is archaic and out-dated?
We hear the call for systemic change:
“Ending educational inequality is going to require systemic change and a long-term sustained effort. There are no shortcuts and no silver bullets.” - Wendy Kopp
“One of the biggest things that needs to change is the educational system. Universities are still teaching a system to students that destroys the biosphere.” - Ray Anderson.
And we agree. Of course we do! But it’s not a ‘it’ versus ‘us’ issue. Systemic change begins with you and me, the educators…the ones who champion the cause every day in our classroom.
We can’t only talk about a top-down approach, because honestly, that’s what exists and it hasn’t been working. Policies, proposals…oh there’s lots of writing and then what? Educators continue to teach the way they’ve always taught and prop up a crumbling curriculum.
So there are things we need to stop doing and also, things we need to start doing.
Facilitating impossible requests: As educators, we jump over hurdles and bend over backwards, way too much. It’s time we demand a job description that’s precise and clear as to where our duties begin and end. We’ve always solved problems in the past, so the powers-that-be have blatantly, and dare I say, rudely, suggested that we should do the same now. Apparently, we can stop ocean levels from rising and negotiate with the sun to stop taking its job so seriously. As we say in the Caribbean, ‘stop the sun from sunning’. Yes, educators are that good. Extreme weather patterns are not a threat- we will wade through flood waters and teach with clothes drenched in sweat. Stop it. Stop trying to be a hero.
2. Saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’: Many of us betray ourselves. We know we can’t take on the extra load, but we agree to chaperone sport teams, stay back late for rehearsals and prepare students for external competitions…just because the admin asked and we feel ‘bad/ guilty’ saying ‘no’. Learn to say ‘no’ and as they say, recognize that ‘no’ is a complete sentence. No explanation needed. Because you know what? When performance management time rolls around, they’re still going to focus the most on how your classes performed academically. Know your role, so ‘slow your roll’. 🙂
3. Using your own resources to fill in for missing infrastructure: If enough of us say, ‘my data plan’ isn’t for school use, greater pressure gets put on the system that wants us to incorporate tech and digital tools. Maybe then “the system” will realize that giving away laptops means squat, when the power constantly dips in our schools, destroying both our devices and well- planned lessons.
4. Being so available: Your contract should have a clear ‘start’ and ‘end’ time for the school day. Stick to them. We know: Educators have big hearts, we’re always ‘doing it for the children’, but it’s the card that ‘the system’ likes to play against us as well. It knows how to pull at our heartstrings, so we leave our LMS open into the night and don’t set boundaries regarding WhatsApp messages from parents/ guardians. We work late into the night, we don’t get paid overtime and when we show up a few minutes late in a row for the week, there’ s an email waiting for us with our ‘tardiness’ carefully calculated. When you sign out, sign off.
1. Taking advantage of training opportunities: There are always webinars, Facebook Lives, Zoom meetings related to all things education. And many of them are free, once you sign up through your school/ institution. You are preparing students for the future, so you can’t remain stuck in the past. ‘Chalk and Talk’ era is over. Get up to scratch and stay up-to-date with pedagogy and methodology.
2. Running towards technology instead of away from it: Yes, the number of tools out there can be daunting. And now we have AI to contend with. But avoidance isn’t the answer, so don’t stick your head in the sand like an ostrich and wait for the storm of technology to pass. It’s going to evolve, not end.
Encouraging new teachers to share their ideas and innovations: Don’t think because you have experience that you have expertise. Expertise is maintained through constant and sustained effort. Are you staying on the cutting edge of your field? Are you adjusting the scheme of work and asking for feedback from the new teachers who come on board? Or are you being a bit of a despot and saying ‘we’ve done it this way for the last decade, here’s the guide, just follow it. Don’t divert from the route.’
3. No, that’s not how education is going to change. Chat with the newbies, ask how they would approach a topic, let them share games they’ve tried with their class that increased student engagement. Let them help you use the newer tech tools and show you how AI can make your life that much easier. Point is, don’t go around thinking they have nothing to teach you.
4. Start envisioning how a plan can work, instead of shooting it down from inception: Sometimes admin comes to us with a plan they want to implement, but because we are comfortable with the flow of things, we show them all the ways that the plan won’t work. We aren’t even willing to hear the steps of the plan or envision the results it could yield. And I say ‘we’ because I’m as guilty of it as any other educator. We need to be a bit more open to trying, rather than denying.
So in answer to my question at the beginning, as to if we can expect all these things from Education, I maintain a firm ‘yes’. Call me a dreamer or an eternal optimist, but I am, above all, an advocate for Education- Education as it ‘should’ be.
So I join my voice to that of Emily W. King, (Ph.D) who states, and I quote:
“While we will continue to fight for systemic change from the top-down by highlighting curriculum flaws, funding gaps, and education needs of our most vulnerable students, I know that the fastest change will come from the teachers on the ground working with students, parents, and colleagues, strengthening understanding, nurturing connection, and fostering engagement one student at a time.”
-Dr. Emily is a Child Psychologist helping parents & teachers come together for neurodivergent youth. Emily W. King, PhD | Raleigh NC
Point is: Change begins with you, even if it’s systemic.