Recently I read a featured editorial in my local paper that addressed the climate for school transformation here in Vermont. The columnist metaphorically described his view of what was needed to move our schools forward. His belief was that the Governor and his Secretary of Education should be driving the “school improvement train,” that the state legislators, the superintendents and local school board members should be in the cars immediately following the engine, trailed somewhere by the principals and, in his model, with our teachers sitting in the caboose waiting for instructions. Students in this model are likely standing on the platform of the train station shouting “Hey, what about us?”
No one can argue that a state should be led led by a conscientious reform-minded Governor and a forward thinking legislature, but after 28 years in school leadership, it is my belief and experience that all top down attempts at school reform are destined for failure. Sure, top down mandates will affect change, but they are almost always short term, only to be replaced by the next initiative…think No Child Left Behind and The Common Core. Sure we adopt the latest top down reform mandate because it is the law…we have no choice. It’s called compliance. Most of us in the trenches just go through the motions.
Imagine now that same train being driven by passionate teacher-leaders working in close partnership with their principals. Imagine students in the very next car providing guidance. Next comes the superintendents and school board members whose primary focus should be supporting the vision of their principals and their teacher-leaders, in other words providing the financial support and nurturing community support and then simply getting out of the way. And what about the Governor, the AOE and the state legislature? They should be looking for ways to make it easier for schools to experiment, to think outside the box and, to borrow from Tony Wagner, to create innovators. Not mandating state wide assessments that ultimately rank schools in our local papers and compromise creativity in our risk adverse educational landscape.
When passion is the catalyst for change, it is meaningful, it is transformative and it is lasting. I chose to be a teacher and later a principal because of a passion for young people. The reason I pay taxes every April? Compliance.
The Rowland Foundation