Should we ask people what they want?

One of my favourite blogs in the world is @shareski‘s Ideas and Thoughts. Above all else, the thing I love most about it is Dean’s ability to be so honest, transparent, and vulnerable in his reflections. He doesn’t wait until he feels he is ‘right’ or ‘expert’ about a topic. Rather, he often throws ideas out for contemplation and discussion in a way that always probes and inspires me.

In one of his most provocative posts (I urge you to take a break from this post and read his here), Dean ruminates on whether or not we really need to vet every paradigm shift we seek in education with each and every stakeholder. Wondering whether people even know what they don’t know, he reminds us that innovators such as Apple don’t ask their customers what new device should be invented, and that constantly involving laypersons in decision-making is a comment on how educators are often not regarded with the same professionalism afforded other vocations.

Below is my cross-posted comment on his post:

I agree that it is problematic (and in some cases, even a cop-out) to group-think every decision that could be made with all stakeholders. This is a case where the wisdom of the crowd usually leads to the inertia of the crowd, or, worse yet, an amplification of unreasonable but loud voices. Educators are professionals. Democracy is not about ‘voting’ on everything. What’s next, permission forms for pedagogy?

I would say, however, that it is absolutely vital that parents and the community are actively brought along the ride of change and process of learning. Just yesterday I had a meeting with a parent who expressed reservations with what I see as an innovative and transformative approach to learning in my class. I invited them in for a classroom observation and had a long talk with them about their child, learning, and the ‘whys’ of what is happening in our room (and beyond).

I have had to do this sort of thing quite a few times in my relatively young career.

There have been moments where I felt resentful, thinking to myself, “Here I am, trying so hard to make change and make as dynamic a learning environment as possible for my students, and I’m having to continually justify my position to all manner of stakeholder, while some others rarely have to do so. Maybe I should just swim downstream like some others. Maybe it’s not worth it. I’m the expert here. I’m not being subversive; I’m just trying to do everything you’re supposed to in its fullest extent. Why can’t I just say, ‘tough, live with it, I know what I’m doing’?”

The problem is that every time I’ve felt that way, it has been an emotional reaction, not necessarily a productive one. It’s so vital that we assert our professionalism and autonomy in everything we do, but I do think the work we do is different than technological/scientific innovation or, the common comparison, medicine. Our students’ parents really are the experts of their own kids.

Those parents I speak of left my class expressing gratitude and trust for my role in their child’s life. They just needed to fill in some gaps of understanding. The more I see this happen, the more I’m thinking they are, in fact, the key, and that it is a small flapping of a butterfly’s wings which leads to bigger things.

And, to top it all off, I received this amazing email on the same day from a parent who also expressed trepidation about my program at the beginning of the year:

Dear Mr. Lee,
As my technology education journey improves, I feel I am no longer a techi immigrant. I owe that to my daily check-ins to [your] Website. I learn so much from [you] just by looking it over. I am so impressed with the upcoming video project. What a way to incorporate procedural writing into the students real world. As a parent, words cannot express my gratitude to what this school and staff are teaching me and [my daughter]. Keep up the superb work.

It was one of the greatest days of my teaching life yesterday.

I don’t know if it’s so much that we need to give parents, students, or other community members the proverbial 50% of the business. It’s more that they have to be part of the learning, and be nurtured to become the biggest advocates of whatever change we are seeking, not because they read it in a book or watched it on the news, but because they literally see the effect it is having on the thing they love more than anything else in the whole world – their children.

Thanks, Dean, for always pushing my thinking in new directions. I’m humbled and honoured to be a co-learner with ya.
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6 Comments

  1. Thought provoking. I can see that there would be value to inviting parents to visit during class time. A former Principal where I worked used to do that – a tour and chat afterwards.

  2. Kind words Royan and thanks for the pushback.

    I wonder if the difference is scale? You’re able to do that at the classroom level and I applaud you for that. You gain credibility and build reputation and trust over time.

    As well, you’re able to make some significant change and innovations that are more difficult to do at a school, district or certainly provincial level.

    I like having parents on board, don’t get me wrong. But I’m less hopeful we can create the schools our students need if we’re going to feel compelled to get everyone or even a majority on board. Then again, we likely don’t have a choice. I’m thinking we’ll see more and more private schools as options.

    1. Ya I agree with you on that. I don’t think it’s about getting everyone on board at all. In fact, it’s absolutely ridiculous to think that we could even get the majority of teachers on board, let alone any other stakeholder.

      I just think we need to have a strong group of parents waving the flag as well. I think it’s a must, because I’ve seen with my own eyes how powerful they are politically.

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