Taking Initiative: Teachers’ Bold and Brave Steps

To create dynamic schools, we must examine the effective teaching practices in award-winning schools. However, until we also peek into some of the frustrations teachers face, we fall short of examining the complexity of the issues in average schools.

Pressures that influence passivity in teachers

Throughout the past few years, I have had the opportunity to talk to many teachers from across the country about the changes taking place in schools. A common refrain from some teachers is they must passively wait for principals to inform them concerning how to address 21st century college and career readiness standards. Yet principals often are waiting for directives from upper management. The hierarchy of management serves to hinder creative innovation.

In another case, a young teacher who has been teaching for four years reported that although salaries in her district are the highest in the state, bad attitudes and apathy from other teachers squash every type of instructional strategy suggested.

In some districts, teachers are held to rigid pacing guides and cannot supplement instruction with other materials. Because teachers are not allowed to create units of study, some teachers feel that they have become robots and page-turners.

Many teachers fear that if they go against the grain they will not be considered professionals. Threatened with insubordination, defiance of authority and refusal to obey orders, teachers are tempted to silently do what is expected without causing conflict.

What can an individual teacher do?

It is exciting to be a part of a forward-thinking school where teachers’ ideas are valued and used to develop curriculum. The problem is that not every teacher finds herself in such a school. So what can an individual teacher do to help move her classroom and school forward?

  • Educate yourself.  Read professional journals and examine the 21st century college and career readiness standards for yourself. Take the risk to improve the education in your own classroom based upon research.
  • Be transparent with other teachers and share your ideas with them. Open your classroom door and welcome other teachers in. Find a group of teachers who also want to create positive change in your school. Remember that teachers with more experience may also be open to ideas that will maximize learning. Teachers with years of experience may have the professional clout to motivate upper management to listen to teachers’ voices.
  • Speak as a group to the administration in a bold yet polite manner. When Mohandas Gandhi went to the British officials in India, he was always polite yet firm in his discussions. The administration is not the enemy. The enemy is ignorance.
  • Educate parents concerning the necessity of teaching 21st century skills. Parents can motivate change in districts. Bring parents in as partners in education. Schools have held parents at arms’ length for too long. It is time we take action and include parents in serious discussions about the educational program.
  • Persevere and don’t give up. Nothing of value is free. We must be resilient in our efforts to create positive change in our schools. Teachers are masters at giving more than they get paid to do. Keep up this practice. We are civil servants. Society needs teachers to help lead the way. Be a leader.

One school district office developed a new report card to reflect 21st century skills, yet never asked for teachers’ input on the process or product. When teachers were forced to use the new reporting system, they gathered together and went to the principal to voice their concerns about the mismatches within the document. The teachers persisted until the district began to address some of the issues the teachers were presenting.

The time has come for teachers to take the lead for changes in formal education. Yet, there is no easy path to improvement.  The way is unmarked and filled with pitfalls and missteps. But when teachers work together and take bold and brave steps they can create positive changes.

With over 35 years in administration and teaching in K-12 and higher education both in the U.S. and internationally, Dr. Nancy Cardenuto strives to cultivate creative and innovative learning paths. She is an adjunct professor in the master’s program at Concordia University – Portland, where she teaches courses in support of the Common Core State Standards. 

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  • Mohandas Gandhi, "An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth"