Transformers Top Ten List

This is a blog to tell SOS readers about  IDEC 2012 Week. 

And–the IDEC 2012 Conference in Puerto Rico next March, a celebration of democratic education– education that is human, powerful, relevant and transformative. Right up Save Our Schools’ alley.

So–how do you transform public education in a world where data and profit trump human needs?

How do you create a climate where education is continuously reinvented–collaboratively and sustainably–in forms that honor our democratic roots and the gifts of children? How do we  foster equity and creativity, when the power elite are demanding standardization and rewarding meaningless credentials?

Gotta start somewhere.

Talking to public school teachers (who still serve some 85% of American kids) feels like an exercise in psychotherapy these days. Teachers are beaten down, their natural desire to help kids repressed, autonomy taken out of their hands, their expertise questioned. Mostly, they’re fearful–and for some very credible reasons, beginning with losing their jobs or public humiliation.

But it’s worth pointing out that this creeping loss of mastery and control has been growing for more than a decade, fed by corporate dollars–but also by a kind of professional complacency. Ceding control over democratic education requires a well-funded technocratic policy elite (and their media buddies)–but also a compliant, passive workforce.

If we’re sitting around, waiting for a progressive, democratic education movement, built on justice and innovation, to emerge, we’re going to be waiting for a long time. What if we started today, with drops of democratic water splashing on the market-forces education rock–so to speak. How about ten free, subtle, simple things teachers can do to begin the process of re-claiming–transforming–education?

1. Smile at children. Often. Especially when they say things that are true, profound, and childlike.

2. Stop talking about how much standardized tests “matter.” Stop feeding the test-anxiety machine. Immediately.

3. Invent reasons to do lessons outside. Even in the winter. Even with high school kids. Measure snow, feed birds, write group poetry, play games in the parking lot– or something.

4. Find something good one of your least creative colleagues does and compliment that person. Encourage them to do it more.

5. Take a traditional school basic practice and develop a learning question: What would happen if we didn’t take attendance? If students graded teachers? If seniors taught kindergarten, instead of teachers? If students chose the music instead of the music teacher? This is totally adaptable to all levels/subjects. Why do we have levels and subjects, anyway?

6. Get brave and start a reading club (it only takes two) and read an article about innovative schools. Talk about out-there educational ideas and models (that would never fly in your community) at lunch. Better yet, invite parents to join–both the reading, and the lunch.

7. Volunteer to handle a bulletin board or showcase for a semester–and use it to post provocative questions. Invite everyone at the school to contribute to the conversation.

8. Ask students what they haven’t learned in school that they wish they knew. Post the answers someplace where the superintendent and school board can read them.

9. Be silent for a day. Communicate with students via written word and hand signals. Ask them to take over their own learning. If necessary, pretend to have laryngitis.

10.  Touch your students. Do it carefully–the shoulder pat, the hair ruffle, one finger on an arm, a handshake–but understand the power of human touch.

0 thoughts on “Transformers Top Ten List

  1. Paula Lee Bright

    I know so many teachers who do all kinds of things just like the great ideas you stated above. I’m sad that you didn’t mention that they are out there in an aside, at least. I know so many online who are extremely active in trying to change education and bring it back from corporate and governmental rules, and deliver it straight to and with kids.

    Fantastic ideas! I applaud them! 😀 Thanks for a good read.

  2. Nancy Flanagan

    You’re absolutely right, Paula–I was remiss in not saying, up front, that teachers are critical foot soldiers in the battle against flavorless scripted curricula and over-testing, and doing a fantastic job against increasingly negative working conditions. I wrote the piece hoping to let teachers know that they have supportive colleagues everywhere, and even a little bit of democratic-ed thinking helps, a lot.

    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it.

  3. Pingback: Blog for IDEC 2012 Week Roundup: Real Education Is… « Cooperative Catalyst

  4. Eoin Bastable

    Hi Nancy,

    I appreciated reading about these ‘first steps’ toward transformation. It’s easy to get caught up in abstract conversations on educational reform at the expense of getting actual experience and feedback on what could work for or matter to students. I have found that making something happen in a public school that feels and looks different can be a lonely and risky exercise. Nevertheless, I am planning to recruit some 8th graders at my middle school to perform a ‘flash mob’ to help improve the culture and safety of our hallways. I got a lot of blank stares when I shared the idea at a recent faculty leadership meeting, but I think these are precisely the type of projects that help other staff overcome their own limitations or fears of what is possible. Thanks for your thoughtful, playful ideas and encouragement. I am happy to hear that you are contributing to IDEA’s work as an organizer. Look forward to reading more about your work in education.

  5. Nancy Flanagan

    Hi Eoin–thanks for your comment. Every little flash mob helps! And the blank stares might be the sign that you’re doing something right.

    IDEA is a wonderful organization, created to promote a range of better educational opportunities for all kids. Hanging with such positive people has been a real shot in the arm for me.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Nancy Flanagan

    Dave–Bingo. Really, the list could stretch to 100 simple ideas, given a room full of teachers who were not fearful of focusing on “deep and rich” rather than “shallow and measurable.” Thanks for your comment.


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