“Reading” the World

shifting-conversations-logoRecently I was speaking with the superintendent of a small rural district in the US about her frustration with moving real changes forward in her district.

“My biggest problem,” she said midway through the conversation, “is that I have a staff that doesn’t read. They’re not really paying attention to what’s happening in the world.”

Her comment affirmed something I’ve been sensing in my travels as I speak about those “meta” changes to various groups of educators around the world. By and large, they seem amazed at what I’m telling and showing them. When I preface some of my slides with “How many of you have heard of…?” (I.e MOOCs or Kickstarter or The Internet of Things) few raise their hands. Or when I quote statistics about kids and technology use, or the number of freelance workers in the US, or the growth of the Internet, many seem surprised if not shocked.

I’m not saying that these teachers aren’t good humans who have profoundly positive impacts on kids lives. Most teachers I meet sincerely care about their work and about the kids they serve. But I am asking the question, to what extent should we expect, even demand that teachers stay current, or to put it in that superintendent’s words, “read”? And what does that mean, exactly?

As professionals, that’s a fair question to ask. I mean, would you continue to go to a doctor that doesn’t “read”? An accountant? A lawyer? I can think of few professions where “reading” wouldn’t be an integral part of providing the best service possible to their customers. Why wouldn’t we expect the same of educators?

readingI know full well the time constraints that many teachers are under. But it’s not enough to say that we don’t have enough time, especially for those who have extended time off in the summer. “Time off” can’t mean that we don’t think about school or our practice or education or the larger world. It can’t mean that just because we’re not with kids on a daily basis that we don’t continue to engage intellectually around the issues that affect our kids. To me, that could constitute malpractice.

That’s not to say that the organization doesn’t play a role in this, that it’s solely up to the individual to figure out how to do this. And in many schools, teachers do get regular time to engage in conversations via PLC (Professional Learning Communities) groups. Even with that time, however, I wonder to what extent the conversations focus on the contextual changes rather than practical changes. How much of those discussions are focused on the fast-changing landscape of higher education, the very different new scenarios for the future of work, or the expected effects of climate change, just to name a few?

Still, school leaders can and should do more to help educators “read” more often, more widely, and more effectively. Here are three quick suggestions on how to do that (aside from subscribing to this newsletter!)

  1. Send out an article a week for teachers to read, and offer up a space for them to respond to it. If teachers have regular Internet access, send out a link and provide a Google Doc for comments. Or, go old school and send out a printed copy. Either way, get interesting, change oriented pieces in front of them.
  2. Find 60 minutes a month to bring staff together to do an overview of a change-related topic. Ideally, find and ask teachers who are interested in those topics to do a quick presentation followed by discussion questions designed to explore the impacts on students, classrooms, and schools.
  3. Do a summer book study with teachers, administrators and, ideally, parents and students. The good news is there are a host of books that deal with change in education to choose from, some less than 100 pages.

However you make it happen, encouraging and engaging teachers and other to continually “read” the world has to be a part of a culture that makes that a priority. This isn’t a “check the box” type of activity; instead, it’s a part of a larger conversation about the mission and vision of the school and district given the realities of the modern world.

Image credit: Cannik

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