One of my greatest frustrations as an education professor
working with students just entering the profession has been the growing gap
between connected educators
and unconnected educators and their influence on the
culture of a school.
Many educators look to colleges to provide the “new
blood” of youthful fledgling teachers who will introduce new methods and
ideas to help drive their schools into
century of learning. I think this expectation of new
teachers leading innovation in education is a myth that has been around since
the 19th century, although my own experience can only verify it from the early
1970s. The fact is that no matter how well-prepared a new teacher comes with new
ideas and methods for teaching, the school’s culture remains the most
influential factor in determining the success or failure of that teacher.
The impact of culture
There are schools with thriving cultures in which the
leadership encourages, supports and
rewards risk and innovation. Teachers are
mentors and leaders in an environment where collaboration abounds. Both time and
incentives are provided for ideas and commitments that move teaching and
Unfortunately, although these cultures exist and should be models for
education, they are not yet the standard within American education. All
educators need to be exposed to these cultures so they know these possibilities
It is the culture of the school that determines openness
to change. Whether or not the faculty is open and collaborative is established
by the school culture. New teachers with new ideas will have little impact on a
toxic school culture. New teachers too often must “go along to get along” in a
school that supports the status quo, with a stagnant culture so ingrained in the
faculty and leadership that little or no change can ever occur. New ideas do not
thrive in these environments. People do not take teaching to
the next level
because it is
just not done. There are no examples of innovation to build upon. Success is
measured by compliance.
The value of connecting
Any educator, new or experienced, in such an environment
needs exposure to what is possible within other thriving cultures if change is
to occur. An obvious answer is for those educators to go to places where innovation and change is happening.
To experience the successes in education innovation, we need not plan a bus trip
or budget for international education conferences. We simply need to put
educators who are open to innovation and change with those educators who are
successfully achieving it. Using the very digital literacy skills all educators
are supposed to be teaching, we can connect,
communicate, curate, collaborate and create
with those who are successfully effecting change
in positive ways.
Technology offers us the means to connect with education thought leaders
and authors who are framing the education discussions. More importantly, it can
connect us with other
who are successfully applying innovative ideas
in teaching and learning. These connections become a network of sources who
supply relevant information that maintains our own relevance in education.
The ability to connect with other educators moves us away from whatever
impediments are imposed by schools or administrators. We can get beyond the
experiences of the teachers in a single school building. We can share ideas
beyond our counties, states and country to gain a global perspective.
A thought not shared can never become an idea. It will
always be a passing thought. Sharing is the key to successful connections.
Collaborating is the key to successful ideas. Together, we are smarter than we
are individually. Educators have the ability to collaborate beyond their
buildings with others who may be more willing than school colleagues to share
and collaborate. Educators need to develop these networks of collaboration. They
no longer need to be limited by the roadblocks within
their school’s culture.
Tom Whitby is a former
professor of education and host of the Edchat Radio Show
on the BAM Radio Network. Connect with him on Twitter via @tomwhitby.