Passing On the Baton in the Name of Reform by Tom King #30Goals

Part of the series: The 30 Goals Challenge, Goal 30: Pass the Baton

Think of the millions of educators out there every day running the race against ignorance and lost opportunities for learning among the kids and communities we serve. Is anyone getting tired, cramped up or out of breath? Does anyone need a break?
Well, many of us now have one: Summer! A chance to reflect: What worked? What didn’t? What could I have done better than I did? What more do I need to know? What can I change? Where can I find more help? Where are the others who will run this race against ignorance that holds back so many in our schools? I can’t do it all myself! How can I better pass the baton?
20 years ago I and a dedicated teaching staff were running in such a race ourselves. We were in the midst of starting up a new school, called the Saturn School of Tomorrow, and dedicated to the simply stated proposition that “More must learn more!” We required a student-designed personal learning plan for every student. We were able to get nearly 100 percent parent involvement in their child’s education. We empowered our teachers by giving them greater control (and even compensation!). We used the community for our classroom (art museum, science museum, library, etc.) Technology empowered both our students and teachers. Amazingly, 10,000 visitors from everywhere came to see what we were trying to do, even the President of the United States, who recognized us for our efforts.
Where is that school today? It is gone!
Some have asked “why?” Having served as the leader of that school, I know there were many reasons: the superintendent who supported our project left in the midst, our standardized test scores fell a little, the local newspaper and other district staff, after the hoopla, “fell out of love” with us and what we were trying to do. But key among the reasons was our failure to better “pass the baton.” Not only did we need more outside help in our race for needed change, we didn’t take enough advantage of the help that was there to take. Why? As one of our teachers said, “It’s hard to change a flat tire on your car when it’s moving.”
The creative teachers who started the school, who invented new and powerful ways to deliver the curriculum, had a difficult time welcoming and inviting in and including the new teachers who joined us in subsequent school years. We no longer had a shared vision, to say nothing of a shared song-sheet, so to speak. All need to be empowered.
We were developing portfolio assessments at the same time we were trying to improve student scores on basic skills using computer-based learning systems. More support was needed from vendors and experts in that area. Why didn’t I push for more help from them?
While we captured the attention of many outside our community, we were unable to secure tacit support among those in our own school district. They saw us as different and threatening to the so-called establishment. Why didn’t I invite them in to help us, co-teach with us, brainstorm, observe and suggest?
When we learned our standardized test scores were below expectations (whatever that means), our local press, which had been supportive at first, ran every headline they could to make us look worse. One of the paper’s columnists criticized a student who misspelled a word when he was showing the visiting President Bush one of our technology tools, never mind that the columnist has a misspelling in that same column. Never fight with those who buy their ink by the barrel! Had I been better at PR, perhaps I could have secured more support from the paper’s editorial staff.
We even tried the fine suggestions that fellow blogger and tweeter Shelly Terrell has listed in her call to more “passing the baton” action:

  • Mentoring
  • Creating a plan
  • Creating leadership positions shared by many
  • Having appropriate measures in place
  • Establishing a vision

But, we needed to do a far better job of monitoring, promoting, including, sharing, telling, asking and passing on. As I look back now I know the students, who did a lot of this for us, could have done even more. Here’s their own video they made about their own very different school:

How about that for an unprompted closing statement from the narrator? It still makes my day.
And as I reflect on it, I think more videos like this one and presos from the students would have greatly helped our cause and success. The students can be great runners in this race, too.
In case you’re wondering, I do know I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. IF I could find some more passionate, caring, able educators and supporters who want to join in the Race For Reform, and are willing to grab a baton.
On your mark!……
Tom King is a retired math teacher, the founder of the Saturn School of Tomorrow, adjunct professor for 35 years +, husband, father, grampa, friend, tennis and golf partner, coffee buddy, reader, photographer, poet, and a marveling lifelong learner. He blogs at Tom King’s Blog of De-Fog and tweets by the handle, @profTK. Read his previous contributions to Teacher Reboot Camp.