All talk of bad intelligence aside, we preemptively invaded Iraq because we believed that we could create an example of democracy in the Middle East that would fundamentally shift the balance of power in the region. We decided that diplomacy was too slow, and too incremental. We believed it would be easier to replace the existing regime with one more friendly to the U.S. We have paid a high price for our miscalculations. Let’s not make the same mistake with educational change.
Educational leaders see the potential of technology and learning, and understand that major transformation and change is necessary to maintain our position as a world leader and superpower, and in fact, for our basic survival as human beings. Our leaders also know the lever that can move the world to a new future is education; but the pace of educational change can be frustratingly slow.
Our system of education is monolithic and slow to change. As leaders we can get to the point where we are tempted to lose our patience and adopt an “the end justifies the means” mentality. We may rationalize to ourselves that the only way to get to our vision of the future is to do a complete “teardown” of our existing system and rebuild it from scratch. Those who think declaring war on education and advocating revolutionary and violent change should look at Iraq today, and think twice.
Revolutionary change seems like a good idea in the abstract; but we are not just changing the system, we are attempting to change the culture, values, and beliefs of the human beings that compose the system. We are asking educational professionals to shift their long held beliefs about teaching and learning. We are asking them to abandon deeply rooted classroom practices and behaviors. We are taking away their reference points and asking them to step into the unknown, the uncomfortable, to become beginners again. Do we actually think that 100 years of a teacher/curriculum centered culture would give way to some new model without significant resistance; any more that 1,000s of years of Iraqi culture would disappear without an insurgency?
We need to resist the impulse to abandon diplomacy. Teachers need to see clearly why existing practice is no longer desirable. They need to see how the new practice will be better. Often we make the case for change superficially and clumsily. We play a video highlighting statistics showing that the world is changing and that kids in the US need to keep up. We quote “The World Is Flat”, we invite a celebrity keynote to inspire the staff to new ways of looking at teaching and learning. After the initial “Bang!”, we start introducing the innovations and change, as if teachers will “get it” in one or two sessions. This is not diplomacy. It is wishful thinking.
The truth is, we may need to have many, many, long conversations, answer many questions, provide more research and evidence than we think we should have to, in order to help teachers begin to see the need for systemic change. Real change requires a huge commitment to an extended “give and take” conversation. It is not limited to questions and answers at a faculty meeting; but a sustained long- term conversation; an examination of the existing beliefs, values, and culture of the educational professionals with whom we work. It may require a multi-step approach that begins with easier to accomplish goals, and as trust is built, moves to more difficult goals.
Even if teachers accept the premise of change, they will need a tremendous amount of support as they attempt to modify their behaviors and classroom practices. Knowing something is the right thing to do is one thing. Doing it is something else. Diplomacy takes time and patience; but if we miss this step we will make little, if any, meaningful progress, in implementing sustainable change; and like in Iraq, we run the risk of a long-term insurgency.
Do we really want an educational system that would give way to a new idea without resistance? If it did, what would that say about the system? No, we have real people and real professionals working in our schools and, if we want transformative change; we should respect them enough to engage in the hard work of diplomacy. War is never the answer.