DAILY INSIGHT: Challenge the status quo

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

About two weeks ago, I saw the Blog Quote of the Day from Patricia Haughney, stating, "I try to avoid teacher bashing. They’re overburdened. … …We have to give teachers more credit and respect everyone’s expertise. Let’s honor each other."

It was the end of a long day, where I had already had to sit through several meetings or conversations where a variety of people were trying to get the district to spend more money to add staff, buy more of something, etc. Most of the requests were legitimate and if the money were readily available, I would love to have granted them. However, the money isn’t there. Unfortunately, I am not seeing an end to the economic plights for schools, at least in Illinois, for several years.

The local paper that same day had articles about teachers needing to pay more for health insurance and the plight of public pensions in Illinois. Ms. Haughney is correct. Simply blaming someone for our education problems won’t solve them. Blaming hardworking teachers, principals or even the IT staff won’t help at all. It will continue to drive some of the best away and drive wedges between administrators, teachers, aides, IT staff and other educators. We need positive ideas and programming. Let’s leave the blame game to those sitting on the sidelines. Those of us in schools working with children and teachers need to be positive.

I think that my point is we really need to think outside of the proverbial box. We need the audacity to truly develop new programs and delivery models. We will occasionally fail at this. I understand that is extremely difficult when we are educating children, but we do need to move forward in bold ways. One of the more interesting articles that I have seen lately discussed not hiring substitute teachers for day-to-day absences for high school teachers. Since those teachers are rarely fully certified for the area they are teaching and often the lessons are simple busywork, those funds could be better used to fund tutoring programs, etc. Actually, most of the time, in my own high school experience, we simply went to the cafeteria. We had few short-term subs. I survives. I plan to explore this option with my high school administrators.

I remember a time when 1:1 computing was an incredibly audacious idea that only the wealthiest of schools would have considered. Today, I think more people are realizing it will eventually reach every student and school, and quickly. We need to look back to history (a favorite pastime of mine) and embrace those people who made this nation great and accomplished the most; they were bold. Teddy Roosevelt failed miserably at trying to enforce the vice laws in New York City as a police commissioner. However, he didn’t stop dreaming big and trying hard. When he became president, the Panama Canal was completed under his leadership when others had been considering how to build that canal since at least 1535. (An excellent book about TR and his time as a police commissioner is Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-Loving New York by Richard Zacks.)

Einstein broke out of his box by not trying to build on the work of his immediate predecessors and make incremental progress in physics, but he went back to revisit the work of Isaac Newton from the 1600s. It was only by challenging 250-year-old “givens” that Einstein was able to move forward. I am afraid we might be close to where Einstein was. We need to go back and truly re-investigate a number of the “givens” in education. We need to really consider how to move forward. Letting kids out to go work on the farm for 60 to 80 days each summer might not be necessary any more. Do the basic assumptions that Horace Mann made in the 1830s and that most schools still follow (consciously or unconsciously) make sense for 21st-century learners?

Education is in desperate need of leaders who can challenge accepted principles like Einstein and dream audaciously like Teddy Roosevelt. Challenging the status quo is essential, since we can’t simply split that class or hire an aide. We need to challenge how we do everything in education and we need to be bold. So, everyone reading this should propose at least one new bold idea or initiative to his or her supervisor before the winter break. Good luck.

Steven M. Baule is superintendent of North Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has written several books on aspects of library and technology management and planning.