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It’s All Talk

The Innovative Educator asks: Who would you like to have speak to your colleagues about transforming education?

Based on recommendations of readers, she has assembled a good, annotated list of big thinkers on the subject, many of whom I’ve been very fortunate to have heard and even met.

A few, including Alan November, Daniel Pink and Tony Wagner, have even spoken to my colleagues, the assembled mass of school-based and district administrators at our annual Leadership Conference, about transforming education.

They were inspiring, thoughtful, forward-thinking, and presented a challenging, but realistic vision of where we should be taking public education.

And nothing changed as a result.

The superintendent and other top administrators booked the speakers, heard their message, and did nothing to lead the system in the direction they pointed.

The principals heard the message, and many agreed with the changes being proposed, but they still went back to their buildings to promote the same old instructional focus.

Many of my colleagues in central office were also in agreement with their messages, but still continued to support the same old instructional focus.

As much as I enjoy a good, inspirational keynote presentation, what good is it if few are willing to act on the message and begin the change process they say they agree with?

We have multiple long discussions about “reforming” (or even transforming) education, nationally as well as in our overly-large school district.

However, we are willing to change very little of our familiar, comfortable, traditional processes to make it happen.

It’s all talk.


  1. The Science Goddess

    I think it really depends on purpose. If we’re looking for a plan for change, then speakers will never get us there. They might inspire…offer alternative views…piss people off/incite emotion—all worthwhile ends, just not for charting out broadbased change.

    Very few opportunities in education require action from participants. It is one of the reasons I continue to be uninterested in Educon. It seems like a place for people who say they want change to go and complain about the status quo…and then make no plan or commitment for action. As much as I admire Chris Lehmann’s passion, he provides no more structure for transforming education than the people you’ve listed above. However, it seems like people don’t mind that something is “all talk” as long as it agrees with their own views.

  2. Jenny

    I’m not sure it’s the speakers’ (or Chris Lehmann’s) responsibility to make the change happen. That’s up to us. They can inspire and motivate but they won’t be there with us. They can offer structures, strategies, and ideas for how to make that change happen. Ultimately, however, we are responsible for the change.

  3. mark

    I sense a bit of frustration. It is a frustration I have shared. Our district has also had their share of keynotes speakers (Jukes, McLeod, Richardson) to almost no top down change. There has been a bit of grassroots bottom up change but that can only go so far unless admin embraces. Leadership requires risk and the courage to be different and I think today’s principals and superintendents are simply afraid. I have to admit I can’t blame them because they measured by the achievement/test scores attained by their schools.

  4. Karen

    I’m not even sure that they believe in what they hear–sometimes I think that they think they should believe….but don’t really. They are stuck in a “the way I learned it was basically OK–even thought they fail to articulate it” and can’t see the realities of today, but only the realities of a system mired in 19th century practices.

  5. Tim

    A large part of my frustration comes from the people who nod approvingly at what these speakers have to say and then do nothing to help enable the change about which they say they agree with. However, I don’t think any meaningful change comes from the top down.

    In our district, as in most, the top leadership are all political animals, hired to keep the public happy and ready, if not exactly willing, to provide the money necessary. And I know many teachers, librarians, and others in our schools who would love to be able to experiment with using new approaches to help their students learn but are given little, if any, support for “thinking different”. Indeed, they are usually actively discouraged from experimenting.

    It would be nice if the people in the middle, many of whom I work with, would do more than hold discussions and book talks and instead work with teachers to help them make some fundamental changes in their instructional practice. And “change” doesn’t include an interactive whiteboard (another frustration for another rant :-).

  6. Lisa Nielsen

    You all have hit the nail on the head. Let the speakers inspire, but those in the schools need to know they have the power to make the change. I sure as heck know that the teachers are the ones who can lead the way and having a good administrator certainly helps – A LOT! I’ve seen and written about passionate teachers and administrators who’ve been inspired and connected and changed the direction of their classrooms, schools, districts and beyond. Go ahead! Think outside the box, break the bans and do what is in the best interest of our children. When you do it, talk about, celebrate it and publish it…a movement takes hold :-)

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