Shutting Down the Machine

My last post elicited a passionate response from David Truss advocating that we do more to support young teachers, ANY teachers, for that matter, that take the risks that are involved in transforming teaching and learning.

The educational machine is powerful and it can be unforgiving. A teacher who ignores the status quo will soon learn about ‘institutional homeostasis’. It might come in the form of scorn from their colleagues, admonitions from supervisors and administrators, or in the form of parents complaining because they want the same experience for their children as they and their own parents had as students. My first year teaching I experienced two of the three on the list.

So, what will it take to transform teaching and learning? What will it take to shut down the pleasant hum of the machine that is so good at turning out 20th century students even though we’re entering the second decade of the 21st century?

Leaders with Courage and Commitment!

I think this clip from Norma Rae is both inspiring and informing. In it, her supervisor, security police, and the factory boss himself, try to intimidate her. She gets fired from the job she holds so dear.

Norma is leading from the front, by example. Pushed over the edge, she takes action. She steps forward with no assurance that anyone will stand with her. Norma Rae puts herself on the line.

She is all in!

Whenever I see Norma Rae’s face, and the faces of her co-workers, I see fear and hope co-mingled. It inspires me to take a stand for what I believe in! By stepping forward with all she had, Norma Rae eventually gives others the courage to follow her lead.

When we set about following our hearts and doing what we think is right; we hope that what we are doing works, that other people see that it works, and that everything turns out for the best. Sometimes things work out and, unfortunately, sometimes they do not. We don’t have to look further than the assassination of Martin Luther King to understand that.

Leaders, whether they lead from the classroom or the district office, need to understand that there are powerful forces aligned against change.

So, it is our blessing and our burden to have the seeds of leadership in each of us.

There is no tiptoeing around this thing. Those who truly desire a transformation of educational system will have to endure many of the same trials and tribulations as those who fought and fight for change in other domains. While educational change agents may not endure the physical pain that so many activists experience; it should come as no surprise that some will be intimidated, or refused tenure, or shunned by colleagues.

If we are going to shut down the momentum of the educational machine, if we are going to transform the factory floor, we will need to be “all in”.

Courage and Commitment!


9 thoughts on “Shutting Down the Machine

  1. Hello Mr. Reilly

    I just wanted to thank you for your article; I think it is also very inspirational.

    I work in a bilingual project (EFL) out of Pereira, Risaralda in Colombia. The aim is to help students learn English as a foreign language. However, besides scarce funds not being properly allocated throughout the educational system and the teachers themselves lacking the language skills necessary to help others, there has been an increase in the interest and the realization of the importance of the matter. But when someone tries to implement real changes into the classrooms you come across “the machine”, and an infinite number of obstacles that need an attitude like the one you are trying to encourage in your writing.

    Thank you again, for it helps us continue to believe in causes that sometimes seem unachievable.



  2. Wonderful Pete!

    I’m ‘all in’ with you! I think quite a few students have also been ‘all in’ for a while, let’s remember to work with them as allies in the transformation and I hope (& I believe) we will see things move a lot faster.

    What a wonderful use of video to make a great point that needs to be heard.

    ‘Be the change!’

    ps. A good read from Ira Socal:
    (Once you get past the anti-Apple rant he describes a wonderful school were they seem to be committed to doing things fundamentally different!)

  3. Hello Pete,

    Very creative in using the video to show how leadership doesn’t necessarily mean it comes from the upper hierarchy. As an educator and a student taking a course on the Future of Education, I feel that all of us should become leaders and bring change to education now. We (teachers) are all preparing students for success in the 21st century. As you stated, we have to be “all in.” I can’t wait to share this with my classmates.


  4. I am with you all! I would love to be able to bring change to the education system, but as a young, new, nontenured teacher, I find it very difficult. I want to “play by the rules” so I don’t lose my job – especially in an economy as tough as ours right now. I have a very supportive administration and I know they are on the same page, but I think the obstacles and difficulties come from above them even. I try to stand up and be a leader and try different things in the classroom, and sometimes “the machine” allows it and it seems like I am pressed to go forward, and there are definitely times when I feel I can’t go on because of an obstacle. But, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to give my kids the best opportunities for learning available! I will continue to try and press on and be the best leader I can!

  5. I would just love the say that this a great little piece and I love the connection that you make to Martin Luther King. If we want things to change it’s not going to be easy, just as it was with Dr. King. However, we must use him as an example and remind ourselves that it won’t be as tough as he and others had it. We can make a change and be a difference, we just have to persevere.

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