Be the change you seek in the world, pedagogically speaking

Dennis Sparks

“I go to quite a few education conferences and professional development events,” Ben Levin wrote in the November 2012 Kappan. “For many years I’ve wondered why these events so often fail to take into account what we know about effective education.”

While a few such events defy that norm (from my experience those sponsored by Learning Forward and the Center for Courage and Renewal are notable in that regard), for the most part meetings that have professional learning or problem solving as their primary purpose defy sound pedagogy.

I’ve long believed that a primary barrier to the continuous improvement of teaching and learning is the absence of demanding intellectual activity during faculty, grade level, and department meetings.

In fact, a prescription for preserving the status quo in classrooms would be to use school meetings for the distribution of “administrivia” and other low-level tasks. And district administrators who wished to ensure such activities in faculty meetings would devote principals’ meetings to similar tasks.

Here are two things that I think are necessary to address this problem:

1. Principals and teacher leaders who desire classrooms in which students solve real problems, acquire deep understanding, and learn to work effectively with others will ensure that teacher meetings in all their forms pursue those same purposes.

2. District administrators who desire to see such outcomes in classrooms and faculty meetings throughout the system will ensure that principals’ meetings and other administrative events address real problems in meaningful ways, deepen understanding, and promote genuine collaboration.

Gandhi’s admonition, “Be the change you seek in the world,” has pedagogical implications for principals and district administrators who truly wish to see continuous improvement in teaching and learning.

What’s on you think? Do you agree that there is too often a mismatch between the kinds of teaching and learning we desire in classrooms and the experiences that teachers and principals have at meetings and other events that have professional learning and problem solving as their primary purposes? In what ways have you seen schools and school systems change to address this problem?

2 Responses to “Be the change you seek in the world, pedagogically speaking”

  1. 1 Jim Knight January 17, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Hi Dennis, I wanted to reply to this earlier, but I’ve been buried under a mountain of email. I think another way to be the change you want to be is to embody the principles you espouse in the way you do the work you do. Thus, if I am presenting on best practices in education, I should use those best practices. And if I am talking about using video to improve professional practice, I should use video to improve my own professional practice. Walking the talk isn’t always easy, but I think it is a crucial leadership skill.

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