Today I came across a blog post by Larry Cuban which deeply resonated with me. During my doctoral studies, I read several of his books and studies. You will find references to him peppered throughout my dissertation. And, I had a total #fangirl moment when he came to speak at Residency in summer 2017, and I was lucky (LUCKY!!!) to be able to sit down in a small group with peers from my cohort to discuss issues in education. His words of wisdom stem from his many years as a classroom teacher, administrator, researcher, and professor…and I hung onto every.single.word.
His latest blog post “One Way or Two-Way Traffic? The Policy to Practice Street” included a phrase that all stakeholders (e.g., policymakers, administrators, teachers) would be wise to remember:
Teachers are not passive recipients of policy but active participants in the policy-to-practice journeyLarry Cuban (August 17, 2019)
The disconnect between research and practice is only surpassed by the HUGE gap between policy and practice. Having been in the classroom for almost a quarter of a century (gosh that makes me sound old), I have seen the trends come and go. In fact, I have been in education long enough for the pendulum to swing back (almost) to where it started when I first walked into my own classroom.
I mention this because change is hard. Very few people like change. It’s easier to maintain the status quo. But what is progress without change? One cannot better themself in anything if they are unwilling to let go of past thinking, habits, etc. Now, I have not agreed with many of the restrictive policies that have come down the pipeline from legislatures far removed from the classroom. But I’m not insubordinate. I’m not going to NOT implement the policy. But I will add my own twist to it. As Cuban wrote in his blog post, “teachers are not passive recipients of policy but active participants in the policy-to-practice journey” (Cuban, 2019).
Most teachers will take whatever comes down the pipeline and add their own twist. Now, I don’t think that their twist is done out of malice, but rather it’s because of past experience and knowledge. We are not tabula rosa. Even new teachers have an idea of who they are, what they believe in, and what works for them. This reminds me of another phrase (also used in my dissertation) from Tyack and Cuban (1995) and that is the notion of the grammar of schooling.
Anyone who has gone through the American educational system believes they know how schools should work because they experienced it first-hand. Some of us experienced 12 years of American schooling as a child. So, sure, why wouldn’t we know how schools should be run? We knew which teachers were good (or bad); we knew which strategies we liked better (and hated); we knew which classes we enjoyed more (and why). So, yes, we all have an idea of how education should “look”…
But the educational experience is different when viewed through the lens of a teacher. Teaching is hard. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean that one can’t absolutely love it. I love teaching. It’s my calling, and I cannot image a more rewarding profession to be in.
Back to my point…
Teachers are not passive recipients of anything. The policies that come down the pike may be mandated (or highly suggested), but how those policies relate to practice is a whole other story. Each school is different. Every classroom is unique. Teachers are individuals and so are their students. Cookie-cutter anything does not work. It just doesn’t.
So…my point is that anyone who is in a leadership role (whether an administrator, program specialist, professional developer), please keep in mind the end-user of your policy or strategy: teachers. We are not out to thwart your efforts at change (at least most of us aren’t), but we aren’t an empty vessel waiting to be filled either. Don’t view us as passive recipients (and don’t mistake our bored looks as being passive-anything). Don’t patronize us because you’re the one standing in the front of the room. Contrary to what the media might say, we do care what happens to our students. We want the best for them. As I’m sure you do, too. Just remember that we’re the ones who will be doing the enacting, the real application-to-practice…in conjunction with 30 to 210 unique little individuals. So don’t judge or chastise us if we don’t implement your program or strategy as it was envisioned in your head. We are not robots, so it should come as no surprise that we will apply what we’ve learned…the best way we know how…keeping in mind the diverse set of individuals who walk through our doors every day.
And that’s just my two cents.