Hitting the wall? No thanks, I’m busy (tearing it down)
Last time I blogged, I talked about how ticked off I was about the impossibilities of teaching in the increasingly restrictive environment of NCLB. A couple of people responded with comments that had the tone of yeah, we feel that way too. But what can we do?
They sounded resigned. Powerless. On the way to curling into a fetal position and staying under the covers. Which is how I was starting to feel, too.
Wow, did that feel lousy.
So I started to wonder, what if I– we– acted as if we believed we had the power to change things. What could we do?
I started brainstorming. Now, remember– the point of brainstorming is to get as many ideas out as possible, without judgment or debate. The idea is that without the pressures of evaluation, more creative ideas emerge, and with those, increased chances for real solutions. Here are some of the things I came up with:
- Lobby against NCLB? And teach too? <snort> Oh, sure. (Wait, isn’t that a judgment?)
- Go on strike? Too much. (More judgment.)
- There’s always the smart mob approach. I love the story of how high school students in Chile used social media to create the “penguin revolution,” a smart mob protest against underfunded public education. See Howard Rheingold’s interview with Chilean journalists who covered the events.
- What would happen if, during peak times of test prep, teachers across the nation just stopped, sat down at the same time of day, for five minutes, and test prep stopped.
- What if teachers just…didn’t do drills for a whole period. Told kids they could choose between test drills or reading, or writing, or…. Ha– the personal choice approach to inspiring sustained silent reading.
These are the kinds of actions that respected tenured teachers could initiate. It sounds drastic, but we may be coming to that.
Here’s what inspired my thought.
Recently, colleagues who support teachers in professional development described the required classroom management tool in an elementary school just across town. If a kid does or says anything against the rules, the teacher is supposed to snap her/his fingers loud and hard, right in the kid’s face. The kid is supposed to freeze. In that frozen state, I guess the kid is supposed to recognize the error of his ways? Anyway, apparently a new teacher in the school was reprimanded for not snapping loud enough, hard enough, fast enough, close enough to the kid’s face.
“I’d like to get a job there just so I could refuse to do that,” said one colleague.
“Yeah. How fast do you think we could get fired?” said the other.
Ah, yes– outright civil disobedience, accompanied, I would hope, by articulate protestation and some good media coverage.
Then it hit me. One of the ideas I’ve derived from Christensen, Horn, and Johnson’s book, Disrupting Class, is that by shifting a very small, seemingly inconsequential aspect of an organization’s operation, an entire paradigm can shift. How might that apply to a school schedule?
Usually, academic subjects meet for five periods a week. Right now, when schools are in test prep lock down, every class every day does some kind of drill. But why should every class stop instruction for five days a week to do this? What if, instead, every academic subject teacher gave up one period a week and that slot would be when test prep occurs. During the other four periods of that academic class, the kids would read, write, think– the best test prep there is.
Experienced teachers (i.e., tenured and respected) could adapt this basic idea to the scheduling vagaries of their own school and bring the idea to their principals. Maybe a couple of teachers could volunteer to try it.
Could we come up with endless reasons this wouldn’t work? OF COURSE. But those objections are exactly what keep us from trying something, anything, to break the hold test prep has on our classes, our hearts.
What have we got to lose?