How Educators and School Leaders Can Claim a Voice in Reform

Image by Getty images 

Image by Getty images 

In education reform, schools are usually only passive players. Reformers rely on them as sites to test policies, but rarely for providing new ideas. Although students, educators and school leaders are the epicenter of schooling, they hardly have a voice in the important decisions that impact their schools.

If you work in a school, you might understand why this is. As I noted in a previous blog post, working in a school can cause tunnel vision—with a commitment to providing students and families with high quality education, educators and school leaders tend to retreat into a bubble. Further, after a long day of lesson planning, teaching, resolving conflicts or managing staff, little room is left to consider the bigger picture of education reform on a systems level. Not to mention the inflexible hours of working in a school—there’s no time to grab lunch and talk about innovation or have midday meetings to get looped in on the latest reforms. Schools are also very political places. It can be intimidating to speak out about your opinions on reform. You never know if a parent, journalist, funder, or board member will come across your comments and make you regret ever speaking out. Therefore, it is often encouraged to play it safe and remain out of the public eye altogether.  

So what can be done to elevate the voices of individuals who currently work in schools? As someone who is working in a middle school, I’ve been thinking about how to tread the line between school official and aspiring reformer. I  used to think that I had to choose between the two identities, but now I’m learning that both roles should not, and cannot, be separated from each other. While I’m in my school, I use my observations to brainstorm ideas for reform, and when I attend events on school integration or using technology in the classroom, I think about how the proposed ideas would play out in my school. After much reflection and trial and error, here are some actionable steps I’d suggest for those of you who want to enter the reform space without leaving the school:

  1. Think of networking as a way to build community rather than as a means to an end of a job search. If you’re interested in getting involved with reform, attend happy hours, events and conferences that will connect you with like-minded individuals. A few groups you can start following now are: Educate, YEP, and Teens Take Charge.

  2. Take teacher friends to educations meetups and events. Teachers trust other teachers so this is one of the better ways to get more teacher voices in the room!

  3. Start blogging/vlogging/tweeting about your work. We can support one another by sharing our experiences, resources and ideas.

  4. Share your work and ideas with your colleagues. Ask for their feedback and start conversations with people who intimately understand your perspective.

  5. Read books and research on education. Articles may keep you up to date with what is going on now, but reading books about education will make you think about your work from a historical, political, sociological and economic perspective. My starter suggestions are: Charles Payne’s So Much Reform, So Little Change, Jeannie Oakes’ Keeping Track and Michael Paris’ Framing Equal Opportunity.

  6. Form connections with people who don’t work in schools, or who don’t even work in education, to gain their fresh perspectives. You may not always agree with them, but it’s useful (and interesting!) to see how others may approach problems differently than you.|

  7. Attend Frontier 2018! You’ll meet plenty of educators, school leaders, students, researchers and nonprofit managers who are ready to get involved in reform.

Striking the balance between working in a school and having a voice in reform is challenging, but can lead to serious progress in the movement. As educators and school leaders we have a responsibility to take part in conversations that will seriously impact our schools. Our voices and experiences need to be shared, and it’s on us to make that happen.

Nasrin Jafari