Changing the Way We Think about Change

“When you change the way you look at things, 
the things you look at change.” 

Max Planck

This July, I took part in what turned out to be a highlight of my thirty-five year career in public education: Along with nine respected friends and colleagues, I traveled to Philadelphia and wrote a collaborative book in just over 48 hours. The book will be called Education Write Now, Volume I. Another team will gather again next July and every subsequent summer to release additional volumes.
Once everyone arrived at the hotel, we met as a writing team. First on the agenda was sharing information about the Will to Live Foundation, a non-profit foundation to which we will be donating all proceeds from book sales. Will to Live is an organization dedicated to preventing teen suicide by improving the lives and the “Will To Live” of teenagers everywhere through education about mental health and encouraging them to recognize the love and hope that exists in each other. You can learn more about their work by watching this compelling video that our team watched to kick off our own work.

Our next task was to decide what to write about and how to turn ten individual 5,000 word essays on education into a single cohesive book. We quickly decided on an overarching theme of “change,” with each author writing about a specific topic we believe needs to change. My own contribution was to write the opening chapter, a general piece on change itself. Each subsequent chapter focuses on a specific aspect of education and how we must change the way we think about it. For example, Dr. Tony Sinanis authored the second chapter, called, “Changing the Way We Think about Learning.” Learn about Tony’s insights in his own blog post next week (access Tony’s blog, Leading Motivated Learners here).

Once we determined our writing topics, the rest of our time was spent writing alone, coming back together as a whole team to share our work, meeting with writing partners to provide critical feedback, and gathering "after hours" for great food, conversation, and much laughter. When we came together as a whole group, we actually read parts of our chapters aloud. It was a bit of a scary feeling, reading our work aloud to nine friends we all respected not only as amazing educators, but also as excellent writers. However, when we did so, we were thrilled to learn that our individual efforts were coming together nicely as a unified book, with our voices sounding much more alike than different from chapter to chapter.

For my chapter on change, I wrote that the time is now to truly change education and not merely settle for doing what we are already doing, only doing it better. Here is a short excerpt from that part of the book:

“...In fact, to draw on another familiar adage, when it comes to public education in our great nation, it sometimes strikes me that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” Something tells me, however, that our noble profession is facing a tipping point when it comes to change. Now is the time for real change, change that moves beyond using one email platform or another; change that goes beyond moving from interactive whiteboards to some other projection system, change that truly reimagines the way in which we evaluate our individual and collective performance; change that requires us to actually stop doing some things completely. In education, the time for change is now, regardless of our comfort level with this premise. There have been sputtering calls for education “reform” over the years. Then, we “changed” our tune, suggesting that rather than “reforming” education, we must “transform” education. I completely understand and support this subtle distinction. Wagner et al make the compelling case: “Education reform” implies that at some point in the past, our education system was just fine and all we need do is make minor improvements to return to this era of success. Even if we accept the premise that our educational system was just fine at some point in the past, the fact remains that our nation’s needs have changed since that time, our nation’s demographics have changed since that time, our career pathways have changed since that time, our children have changed since that time, our family structures have changed since that time, and resources available to us have changed since that time. The time for “reform” has long since passed us by; the time to "transform" is now--before this concept, too, becomes yet another educational buzzword that results only in finding better ways of doing the same old thing. Rather than asking how we can simply function more effectively, we must ask ourselves how we must function differently. Doing things better is good. Doing better things is even better. In education, we always have and always will strive to do things better. The time is now, however, to do better things. The future of our country--every student in every classroom--demands that we act and act now…”

Next week, please look for Tony Sinanis’s thoughts on our writing process, as well as an excerpt from his chapter. I was honored beyond words to partner with Tony and eight other amazing writers and thinkers on the Education Write Now project. Of course, we could not have hosted this education writing retreat without the support of our sponsor, Routledge who will publish this book, due out in December. I am already looking forward to next year’s retreat; Joe Mazza and I will continue to lead the work as co-editors and we will invite eight different educational writers to join us next summer. Please let me know if you would like to be considered as a participant. Writing about education issues that matter right now is another way we Teach, Learn, and Lead with Passion!

Final Note: Huge thanks to the inaugural Education Write Now team for donating their time and energy to this project. They are all outstanding and passionate educators. More importantly, they are just about the best friends a person could ever hope to have and I am humbled to have had this opportunity to work with them:

Dr. Tony Sinanis

Mr. Thomas C. Murray

Dr. Sanee Bell

Ms. Kayla Delzer

Dr. Joe Sanfelippo

Dr. Bob Dillon

Ms. Amber Teamann

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