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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D candidate at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree...
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Riding the Waves of Educational Reform

If you’ve been in education for any length of time, you know you can count on one thing: things are going to change. The latest, greatest educational reform-whether if it comes from the federal, state or local level (or all of them) will surely impact your school and classroom. Reform, plainly speaking, is the nature of education. And if you’re going to survive for any amount of time in this profession, you must learn to ride these waves.

Just in the last decade, education has seen the No Child Left Behind Act, the implementation of Common Core standards, and the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act; and that’s only at the federal level. Depending on the state, and school district, teachers might have also experienced changes in state accountability models, school district policies and programs, and even school-level adjustments.

For instance, within the span of four years, I experienced changes in district-wide curriculum, formal teaching observation procedures (having and programming changes, such as Response to Intervention, which assigns students to tiers to provide targeted instruction. And of course, with the changing of guard in school districts, there seems to be a new “theme” every school year. One year we are supposed to focus on character building, the next engagement, and so on. It surely is enough to make your head spin.

As a teacher, you really don’t have much control over these changes—the waves are coming. Therefore, you must learn to skillfully handle them. When learning to surf, for instance, one of the first things I realized is that I had to figure out how to get past the oncoming waves as I swam out to the break. As waves formed and I paddled out into the great beyond, I had a choice: I could speed up and get over the top of the wave; I could “dive” through the wave; or I could meet it head-on. When you get smacked by a wave head-on, you understand the waves’ power as it knocks you back. It can knock you under water. It certainly saps your energy, as you recover and swim back out to your original position. Meeting waves head on is the least preferred option. I quickly learned that it’s better to time the waves, to go with them, to go under them, and around them, thus conversing my energy for the actual surfing. The same can be said for meeting the waves of education. If you meet all these changes head-on, it’s exhausting. You tire yourself out as you try to meet these demands. Rather, you must learn to time these educational waves-so you can eventually ride them.

But how to ride out these changes? Well, I don’t have all the answers, sometimes I think teachers just have to endure (which they have an amazing ability to do), but perhaps these ideas might make the ride smoother.

Keep Perspective

Try to look at the long-term. Remember, education is constantly in flux. New legislation, new policies, new programs are the nature of the business. I recall working with a veteran teacher, who spent 30 years on the job. Whenever a change came, he remained calm and reminded us newer teachers that the latest initiative would come and go, replaced by another one, and there was no need to get excited.

Remember the Mission

When change becomes overwhelming, remind yourself why you got into this job in the first place: working with young people and making a difference. Focus on the classroom. Focus on the students, the child in front of you and do what you do best.

Educate Yourself

When reforms happen that you believe will have a major impact on your job, it’s wise to learn everything you can about them. For instance, if the school district is revamping the way teachers are evaluated, then it’s in your best interest to study the new evaluation system. Ask questions, read, attend trainings to prepare yourself for the new requirements.

Band Together

Your peers are going through the same situation, so stick together. Discuss the changes, debate them, question then, joke about them, work together to meet the new demands. It may help to just talk to others who are in the same position.

Take Advantage of the Situation

Can you make the situation work to your advantage? For instance, if a new reading program is being implemented, might you get ahead of the curve by learning about it and possibly serving as a district or school trainer or facilitator? Whenever change occurs, there’s a need to train others. Consider how to re-position yourself to make the change work to your advantage.

Educational reform is going to happen. If history is an indicator of the future, schools will continue to revise and adjust their approaches to teaching students. Rather than get knocked around by these waves of change, prepare yourself to ride them out and keep your sanity in the process.