So first I just want to thank all of you who stuck around during the last session at Educon last week to extend this conversation, and to those of you who have signed on to see if we can make this happen. I thought for the most part, the conversation was valuable, and it’s left me thinking a lot this week about what we can and, perhaps, cannot do.
But I wanted to start this post with some context from a Jon Becker blog post that Chris alluded to in his session as well. It’s a quote by former NYC education head Joel Klein commenting on the “Political Education of Michelle Rhee.” He says:
This is a game about power, and I think you have a vacuum on one sideâ€¦Sheâ€™s concluded â€” and I think with some wisdom â€” that thereâ€™s really no countervailing force that is well-funded, is well-organized. What I think she wants to build is an organization that can really step up and amass political support and play hardball.
As Jon notes, Klein is right. There is no alternative narrative to the “do what we’re currently doing only better” “reform” that Rhee and her cohorts are espousing. And as much as I’d like to agree with Jon that the Educon axioms suggest an alternative narrative, I still don’t see an “elevator pitch” that articulates those ideas in sound-bitey ways that people will take a chance on. And I do mean take a chance. As natural and as logical as those axioms may seem to the attendees at Educon, I’m not sure the general public is able or willing to accept them for their own schools. I know the parents at SLA have done so, and I’m totally hoping to be convinced otherwise, but for now, it’s easier to put “Students First,” the name Rhee has wrapped her “reform” around.
That new message is the hard part, and we grappled with that during our session. In fact we tried to plan around it, and I actually think we got a decent start on it. But try as we might to trust that we’d eventually coalesce around that “new story,” it was obviously on our minds. Take a look at the ideas we added to the brain dump doc:
It needs some organization, no doubt (and if anyone wants to take a shot at that, have at it), but there are definitely some great thoughts that we’ve already amassed. We’ve also got 38 people who have committed to getting about 2,000 parents organized, and John Pederson was nice enough to put together a Facebook group that we can use, all of which leaves me hopeful that we can actually make this idea come to fruition.
In a nutshell, here are the logistical themes that we can glean already:
- There should be a consistent, formal presentation piece followed by facilitated discussion
- Part of the presentation should involve students, perhaps in helping to create a video
- Create a way for these conversations to be captured and continued…make a movement
- We want to think about a name and a brand and a marketing plan.
- We want to plan the facilitation of these events carefully and provide opportunities for organizers to connect and plan together.
- And, let me add, we’re going to need some folks to take on an organizing role around some of these specific tasks. (Don’t be shy.)
But it’s gonna come down to the message. I think what we’re going to be suggesting is a conversation around transform, not reform, a conversation that necessarily will move parents out of their comfort zones a bit to really look at how schools simply have to change to better serve our kids. But even that last statement is loaded with all sorts of assumptions that I’m not sure are fair to make. Thus, the problem.
So, time for some ideas on next steps. What’s our next move?
John Patten says
Wonderful idea Will, and I’ve been following it since you started talking about it a few weeks before Educon. However, all the talk has been at a very high level. There is nothing concrete that parents can grasp a hold of and see a “story” of how everything would change if we started working “that story.” What is the story? What unifying idea will make what we do with student more meaningful in this day and age, provide teachers with the tools to address every unique child, and provide a domino effect that will transform our educational system, and “magically” provide more time for what is important in a new public education system? I actually believe some of those, that many of us feel don’t have the right answer, have pieces of the right answer. But they are not using them in a manner that will provide the correct results.
Where I live, like probably most of you, people are struggling in this current environment, our unemployment rate is about 17% and we lead the nation in foreclosures (Modesto, CA). The majority of the people feeling the pain are the middle and lower socioeconomic class. My guess is these are also those with the majority of children in our public schools. The story we have to create and tell must be crystal clear and logical. The power of the opposition, and I don’t like to describe them like that…maybe we can call them the misguided, is the fact that they tell a simple story, that is familiar, almost to the point our parents don’t have to work too hard to understand the logic. They, the parents, have lived through the “misguided’s” story. It is familiar to them. With all the other challenges our parents our facing, keeping a job, a roof over their childrens’ heads, and food on the table, they gravitate to the easy simple solution.
Our story must meet that same criteria while at the same time be such a catalyst that it changes everything related down the line. I should say, changes everything for the better. Which, again, may be presumptuous. At a minimum, it should move us the momentum to continue moving us in the right direction.
In my district, for almost a year now, we have been discussing these issues with a group made up of our local community (teachers, admin, parents, etc.). We’ve done the “committee thing,” identified needs, looked at how others are addressing similar needs, etc. etc. etc. Interesting enough most of the ideas being shared at this point are unique to specific situations, “flipping homework,” unified web sites for improved communication, and other fairly common suggestions. They are ideas that don’t provide the story we need. They are solutions and sometimes part of the story. But they are not the catalyst for needed change that you are writing about in your blog.
I do see some light at the end of the tunnel, though it might just be a break in the rock before the next tunnel. In any case, an idea has been forming long before our committee got together and the committee has just helped to flush it out. My docs are a mess of ideas, and I’ve been trying to flesh them out on my blog. Sometimes I think I might be seeing connections where there are not any. But at some point something has to stick to the wall. Long run tomorrow morning and that always helps to organize the brain cells a bit. Some preliminary ideas are on my blog, edutoncia.blogspot.com Maybe they’ll help someone else with some hunches. Sorry for the long comment, but it helped me 😉
Scott Nine says
There is much overlap and connection between the goals and dilemmas posed in what you are discussing and what IDEA has been up to. We’d love to support this effort and share what we’ve been learning about branding and messaging – we are seeking that very same story line and the just right structures to support just the kinds of actions it seems you/we yearn for.
Let us know how if you want to connect in hopes of collaborating.
Ashleigh Skelton says
This story is amazing. Though I am not a teacher yet, this story has opened my eyes to a whole new world. I believe that one day this story will lead the way to change things on down the road. I know it wont be easy, but when you have people who truly believe in something it’s not that hard to achieve greatness.
Hey Will, I am excited to see that you are taking some steps to actually create an alternative to the ED Reform debate down there in the states. Being one of the Canadian PLPeeps, I am always concerned by the educational trends in the states as they often drive our systems. I am happy to say that I don’t think our system is in as much of a crysis of self doubt as your is but, I have been thinking a great deal about just what it is that we tech/media reformers are asking. I blogged about it here, http://mrdale.edublogs.org/. We are at the beginnings of a revolution, and we are the revolutionaries, with all the risk that entails. At this point we are all thnking and planning in different directions, what you have started here is a way to get this herd of cats moving in the same direction. If we are going to build a movement we need to get organized, present ourselves to others as a viable alternative, and start to get our message out into the public. It will not be easy, and we will need lots of help along the way, but we already have a growing model to learn from in Finland’s educational system. Now, where did I leave Bill Gates’ phone number? He might be able to help!
I think the major difficulty is its difficult to pitch an idea without a concrete model. I think its easy to use a school like SLA as a model, but one of the ideas that kept coming up at EduCon was that SLA is doing things that work great for SLA, but every school is different. How can we pitch a unified idea when a significant piece of that concept is that the model must be variable? It’s much easier for the Rhee’s of the world to sell do what you’ve always done only better, than for us to pitch do something entirely different and not easily scalable.
However, it may not be impossible and I agree with the other commenters in thinking that a strong and unifying narrative must be used to take the place of a concrete and scalable model.
Rodd Lucier says
I was busy hosting a conversation during the last session at #educon, but this session is one that I’ve been thinking about for some time.
One of the ways I see such a movement getting attention, is to get influential ed-tech voices and grass roots educators to agree. This summer, we’re hosting a pan-Canadian summit, that in the big picture, may lead everyone to consider how we might reinvent education. It will start with sharing compelling stories and building relationships, but my hope is that it will end with a common vision for K-12 education.
We’ve got the branding side figured out, but our site is not being made public until the end of the month by which time we hope to have it edited and translated into French. Nonetheless, I can’t resist sharing a sneak peek:
John Patten says
FWIW, Listened to the announcement for No Right Brain Left Behind by rightbrainsare.us/ this afternoon @ first day of Social Media Week, New York. This groups challenge seems to be a nice fit with what you’re trying to get started Will…
Ewan McIntosh says
I had started writing a comment, which would have gone on the “When’s our Egypt moment” post, but became too long. It became a blog post.
Basically, I think you’ve got the same drive to do something we’ve all been working at for years at a local, segmented level. Most schools I work with DO get parents involved insofar as they can.
The point you raise about branding, though, is important, maybe the most important. If you want to create a movement, people need something with which they can identify to get behind. A slogan, a notion.
I’ve made my contribution on that front here, and raised you one or two in levels of ambition I think we need to reach for:
Bill Ferriter says
It’s taken me a while to find the time to start poking around in these posts, but I’d like to organize a conversation here in Raleigh. In fact, I think our community would really rally around a conversation simply because there’s so much division here already.
And as far as a slogan or a brand goes, what about the simple phrase “We Care.” I like it on many levels.
First, it’s inclusive—-even when people disagree about the direction schools should travel in, they care about kids. Getting that on the table ahead of time becomes a constant reminder of a shared norm—-if you’re here, you care. And if you care, I want to work with you. I can respect you. This isn’t competitive, it’s collaborative—even when we don’t see eye to eye.
Second, it pushes back against the “teachers and their unions are hurting our kids” narrative being painted by the Rhee crowd—which will be especially important if these conversations are being organized by folks within the traditional educational establishment.
Finally, it serves as a simple reminder to parents—who are our primary audience—that the teachers who have been attacked so vehemently by the Rhee crowd are the same teachers that they know and love on a local level. Teachers have always had high levels of trust from parents and the community, but by grouping them into some impersonal monolith—“the union”—-our opponents are trying to chip away at that trust. “We care” brings parents back to the teacher working with their child every day.
Let me know if I can help,