Just like the weather these days, everybody talks about educational reform, but almost nobody does anything about it. Except for maybe a ray of sunshine here and a thunderstorm there, schools and the kids in them continue pretty much as Horace Mann started them almost 200 years ago.
Sad, isn't it? We know a lot more about how kids learn, but we rarely can do anything about it. We have more tools for learning than ever before, but even when we have them (which is also far too rare), the teachers haven't been trained in how to use them.
Now there are a few dozen exceptions to this tragic pickle jar we find ourselves in, some schools with staff and kids that have leapt ahead in their teaching and learning. Most don't last for long. Leaders leave, teachers burn out, funding fails and the lamp of learning is dimmed again.
Furthermore, we find it almost impossible to replicate them anywhere else, no matter how extensive the documentation and supportive research. The chemistry is never quite the same.
What can we do to change this tragedy?
Let's dream dreams. What if we brought together some caring, creative folks and asked them to imagine a school, or even better, a learning environment, where more kids learned more. We'd stipulate that we can't make all kids learning everything right now, so we'll settle for more learning more.
We keep this team of change agents together until they come up with a Manifesto for K-12 Learning Success, with the motto: "That More Will Learn More!" Let's go way out on a limb and say we can list what's needed and what it will cost, and we can find a way to fund it, too.
What's next? Educational paradise? Hardly. Why?
We have over 16,000 school districts in America, all controlled by separate school boards, superintendents, principals, plus state boards and agencies, and a host of federal regulations if you want their federal funds. What do you think are the chances of convincing tens of thousands of entities to adopt a unilateral plan for change? What do you think are the chances of changing even a few? As the old saying goes, "Slim to none!"
If you've been in K-12 or higher-education for any length of time, you know this is true. With the local control of schools, directions for change can't come from outside. It's hard enough to make them come from the inside. And even if you can light a fire big enough to make that happen, how do you keep it from burning itself out over time?
So, allow me to suggest the only firm conclusion I can draw from my own effort with school reform: True change begins and ends with changed practices, one practicer at a time. The proof is in each dish of pudding. Here's the story:
Start with your own classroom. Here's one more key tip: involve the students as change partners. Give them more responsibility for being in charge of planning, doing and reporting on their own learning. Let the parent be their partner. You are the team member. Each student leads his own Personal Learning Plan.
That was the most significant idea at our Saturn School of Tomorrow: the Personal Learning Plan, owned by each student. It works. Listen to the last line of this video made by the Saturn School kids to tell the whole world about their school.
Never give up. Change what you can. Pass it on and pay it forward.
Now what's this business about "Locking the Locker Room Door" in the title above? Comedian Bill Cosby told a joke with a moral once about the coach who got his players all pumped up at half time to mount a major comeback. They were chomping at the bit, ready to go out and win the game, but the coach couldn't find the key to unlock the locker room door.
Make sure you have the key.
And, may the Force of Change be with you.