Sometimes the things that we have to do become tradition, and as tradition ages sometimes those practices do not serve all children. Sometimes we have to change an established way of doing things in order to better serve our kids.
Most times, changes that enrich the student experience are sought and welcomed, but sometimes the need for change surprises or eludes us altogether. What happens when you are one who notices that change needs to happen? What happens when others see your vision? What happens when they do not? What happens when your school is governed by the benevolent tenet “We’ve always done it this way”? What happens when your school is governed by more savage doctrines or individuals?
Identify Why Change Needs to Happen
Sometimes a thing needs to change because it is not reaching students in the way we want it to. We may not be seeing the growth we want or the engagement that they need. When you notice such trends, You’ve got to ask yourself some very important questions. These questions can sometimes take weeks to answer, and that is OK. (After all, it takes time to become a hero.) Designing a powerful approach to a problem is potent change work.
Do a Little Bit of Research
Once you’ve decided that change needs to be made, it’s important to think about the kind of change that would benefit your students most. This is where you usually have to be careful. It’s easy to fall back on things that we know well or on the ways that we were taught when we were in school. It is important to ask, “Are those things really best for our students?”
Decide What to Do and Make a Plan
A little bit of research combined with your original hunch can be all you need to make a decision. If you are lucky enough to have a coach, mentor, or trusted colleague, you can talk to them about what you have learned so far. If you are in a situation where change is an articulated process, now is the time to get yourself on the agenda or ask for a meeting with the parties that can help you to realize your vision. If you are in a place where change might be met with various forms of hostility, this is when you use the research you just did to provision yourself for the journey ahead.
Execute the Plan
Try it. It won’t all go well. That’s to be expected, so you’ll be making active revisions as you go. Observe everything, and reflect. Often.
When people hear you talking like this, and they understand that you base your classroom decisions on research and on data generated from practice in your classroom, you’ll find that they will listen to you more. This kind of leadership improves discourse across a whole teacher team. Others will notice your methods, and dialogue will become richer, because you’ll raise the bar. Though conversations will be hard, they will be productive. Change will take root, because you listened.
Cornelius Minor is a frequent keynote speaker for and Lead Staff Developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. In that capacity, he works with teachers, school leaders, and leaders of community-based organizations to support deep and wide literacy reform in cities (and sometimes villages) across the globe. Whether working with teachers and young people in Singapore, Seattle, or New York City, Cornelius always uses his love for technology, hip-hop, and social media to recruit students’ engagement in reading and writing and teachers’ engagement in communities of practice. As a staff developer, Cornelius draws not only on his years teaching middle school in the Bronx and Brooklyn, but also on time spent skateboarding, shooting hoops, and working with young people.
You can follow Cornelius on Twitter @MisterMinor