So, I’m tired. In the last 21 days I’ve traveled about 8,000 miles, near as I can figure, and given 11 presentations, four of them on “opening days” in front of a total of about 3,000 teachers in about a half dozen states and provinces. It’s a fun time when people are rested and ready to get back to school and for the most part engaged in thinking about teaching, learning and schooling. And it’s a good time to get a temperature check as to what’s changing, if anything, in classrooms and in schools. In a few words, my impression continues to be: not much.
That’s not to say that there aren’t more silos or islands or whatever metaphor works of teachers and classrooms with teachers who are letting students do real work for real purposes and real audiences. There are, and in general, it’s feeling like more and more teachers are taking seriously the idea that we need to start some wide-ranging reflection and conversation about just what it is we’re doing with our students. (How far those conversations ever get is another story, however.) I’m sure there will be those that read this blog and others who will disagree, who will trumpet serious efforts and rethinking things either on a personal or system wide level. And that’s all good, but not surprising. They’re reading and participating already. On some level, they get it.
But, I’ll say it again, what these condensed travels remind me is just how small the scope of all of this talk continues to be. The vast majority of those who I’ve been in rooms with the last three weeks have little idea of what is happening in the world and have given nary a thought to what this means for teaching and learning. How do I know that? By the “omg” comments that I hear as they are filing out. By the “Ugh…we’ve got a lot of work to do” responses. By the teacher/mother of a teenager who asked me what Facebook was. By the consistently less than 10% of people in the room who own a MySpace or a Facebook site. Not that the Read/Write Web conversation is the only one that matters in the context of changing schools, mind you. But it is the one that consumes my time, obviously.
Recently, after one of my presentations, the superintendent of the district and I were standing shoulder to shoulder as his teachers were filing out of the room. He’d given an extremely thought provoking introduction, articulating his desire that they enter into a district wide conversation about change, that they all had a stake and a voice in that conversation if they wanted it. But at the end of my talk, the few questions went pretty much right to the “yeah, buts” and the reasons why these ideas would be difficult to make work. “The problem,” the superintendent said to me, “is that they don’t think they have a voice. They’ve been conditioned to wait for us to lead, to tell them what they can or can’t do. Somehow, we need to change that.”
For most educators, “back to school” means “back to teaching.” And that can be good work, but it remains obvious to me that very few see it as “back to learning.” For themselves, that is, along with their students. I’m not seeing much change since I wrote this two years ago.
I hate to generalize, but the thing that seems to be missing from most of my conversations with classroom teachers and administrators is a willingness to even try to re-envision their own learning, not just their students.
I still feel that way, for the most part. Things may have moved a tic or two on the scale, but until we do that en masse, not much is going to change.