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Leadership and Activism

Do It From The Classroom

This week’s Cooperative Catalyst blog question mirrors an #Edchat twtpoll question:  How can teachers have a bigger influence on education reformation?

One of my favorite songs relatively early in my career was by Whitney Houston, called: “Greatest Love Of All

It began with these words:

I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be

To answer the question, How can teachers have a bigger influence on education reformation?

Go with the words to that song as the first five things to do:

  1. Teach them well.
  2. Let them lead the way.
  3. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.
  4. Give them a sense of pride.
  5. Let the children laugh.

Because , if you do that, you’ve got the beginnings of a great community in your classroom that will spill over into your school.

So, what else can teachers do to have a bigger influence?

Teach them WELL–that means not teaching to the factoids of the state mandated tests, but teaching to the bigger ideas, the  conceptual understandings, the processes that will impact and serve them the rest of their lives.

Think about your learning space and how it facilitates (or doesn’t) the various kinds of learning and interactions you want to happen.  Set your students up to have access to the caves, the watering holes, the campfire areas they need at various stages in the learning process. The environment has a lot to do not only with how learners feel as they work, but the impressions people have as they walk on and begin to make assumptions or hypotheses about what is happening in that space. TEACH people about your theories and beliefs about education through your learning space design–and share it online so others can learn, too.

Teach your students how to think–specifically and strategically teach them how to outline, how to take notes, how to read for pleasure, how to think critically, how to think like a mathematician, an historian, a scientist, an artist, a builder, a tinkerer.  Teach them how to read for deep understanding, how to observe carefully to see the beauty in this world, to reflect on their learning, their thinking and their interactions to know and be aware of the impact of their actions on others constantly. Teach them how to enjoy , how to play, how to laugh and then laugh some more. . .

And, as we teach well, and teach for deep understanding, don’t forget to teach the parents why we are working this way. Bring the parents along and try to involve your colleagues in the parent teaching you do.  Share WHY you are teaching the way you are and make sure the kids understand, too. Help them be part of the PR campaign to spread the great teaching techniques you are using and the great learning the kids are doing.

Then, DON’T put up with crap from your colleagues. If they complain you aren’t getting your kids ready for the tests, show them how you are by teaching deeply, for understanding.  If they complain you’re having too much fun, invite them in–find a way to involve them and their kids in one of your learning activities.

Oh, did I say don’t put up with crap from your colleagues?  Well, don’t put up with crappy colleagues either.  It is time to stop hiding incompetence and start demanding excellence from all of us. We can’t ask for respect for those on the outside if we can’t trust in our own profession to do right by kids and meaningful learning.

When we hear people say the best three things about teaching are June, July and August, we should ask them if they need help finding another job.

When we see or hear about decisions that are not in the best interests of kids, we should question those bad decisions–PUBLICLY. And we should keep questioning them until others begin to question them, too. Then we should offer better suggestions to the problem or the question that caused the bad decisions in the first place.

The most important act we can take to have a bigger influence on education reformation from our classrooms is to teach ALL kids. Teach them all to believe in themselves as learners and thinkers and find ways to help them be successful at that, so they begin to internalize those learning skills, those habits of mind that lead to deep learning. Find ways to reach even the most difficult or most reluctant learner. Just teach them ALL and watch the powers that be take note and begin to watch… and ask questions… and maybe even learn.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of what teachers can do in school or from their classroom to have a bigger impact on education reform–but there are 6 more bloggers yet to come writing to this same question. Enjoy…and be thoughtful as to how you can share what you are doing with us as well as your own community!


About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


19 thoughts on “Do It From The Classroom

  1. Bam!

    Posted by Adam Burk | May 3, 2010, 3:54 pm
  2. Thanks Paula. It is remarkable how simple it really can be. I would as John Holt reminds us, you must first “Trust your students” and the rest will follow. I started a poem a while back…..

    I trust children…
    a short poem in progress
    I trust children to enjoy
    I trust children to want to
    solve problems
    I trust children to                           
                                              have insights
    have thoughts of importance
    I trust children to critique and improve
                                our world
                                              our languages
                                              our history
                                              our wisdom
                                              our traditions
                                              our greatness
    our weakness
    I trust children with
    Important work
    creating a new world
    understanding the complexities of life
    finding answers to real problems
    constructing their own meaning in the world
    surprising us with their genius and understanding
    I trust children to teach me
    the wonder of the world
    the power of play
    the joy of learning
    how to be creative
    how little I know
    that there is not much difference between work and play

    Posted by dloitz | May 3, 2010, 5:16 pm
    • What a great poem. It’s funny how, if you trust them, they’ll give so much back, you are truly “surprised at their genius and understanding.” Today I had an extra math class because the kids wanted to talk about the problem we had begun last week. They had been thinking about it and playing with it and were anxious to share and think together. It was pretty amazing.

      What age do you work with, David?

      Posted by Paula White | May 3, 2010, 6:07 pm
  3. Paula, I agree with all of your points, and I love how you make them. we have to be vocal and honest with colleagues even if it doesn’t win us any friends in the break room. We have to help people to understand the impact of their “crappiness” upon the kids, and how often times it is in everyone’s best interest if they move on.

    My question is, that while what you describe is an important half of the process in education reform, what about the half that occurs outside of the classroom–in legislative sessions and school board meetings? You describe a grassroots approach, how will it grow to reach the top tiers of decision makers? Do we need to be working on both grassroot and top-down strategies to bring about meaningful education reform?

    Pushing on,

    Posted by Adam Burk | May 3, 2010, 8:22 pm
    • Adam, Of course we need to be working from both directions0-and I would add from the parent direction as well–and from the community direction and from every direction we possibly can.

      Yesterday my class was featured in our local newspaper as part of a story from a developing program at the University of VA. A Mom had stopped by my room to talk to me and my principal stopped by as well. To make a long story short, basically the principal asked this parent to please go in and respond to an inappropriate first response to the article. Finding ways to involve parents in the battle and to get them to help fight for change is important. (

      I do have the support of my principal and Superintendent to teach in the ways I believe “schooling” should happen. I am blessed in that respect and that means, partially, that I can spend more energy in my room than out of it. I can trust that they’re working to bring about meaningful change and I can also trust they’ll keep me in the loop and yell when I can help something specific they are doing.

      Our Central folks work to help inform and educate our School Board (see “Is Your School Board Simply A Rule Board? Mine Isn’t! @ and our School Board attempts to inform and educate our Board of Supervisors–that’s one of our walls. Some of those folks are unbelieving of the power of today’s students and today’s tools for learning. We have to keep working on them to help them understand.

      Adam, thanks for your questions–but honestly. I didn’t go outside the classroom, cause I figured YOU’D be going there in your post. 🙂 I was also trying to keep my post from being any longer. Looking forward to your post on this question,


      Posted by Paula White | May 4, 2010, 6:30 am
      • Paula, the link to your blog post is broken, and it may be my school’s connection this morning but I can’t get the news article to load…I will try again later.

        You are right this needs to happen from every direction, and with your talent and aptitude for making it happen in the classroom, I was curious as to how you would work the magic in other venues.

        Have a great day!


        Posted by Adam Burk | May 4, 2010, 7:54 am
      • The article finally loaded. That is awesome work you are doing. We are working on a Garden Design project in math right now with the final product being a 3-D model, I wish I had your technology set-up!

        Posted by Adam Burk | May 4, 2010, 8:02 am
  4. My friends, In the next few days I am standing before one of the largest school districts in California to say, 1) students get blamed for the crappy practice of teachers; 2) students are the most important people in the enterprise; 3) don’t blame kids for not liking school.

    If I am still alive after Thursday, I will post and comment again here at Coop Catalyst. Really, I’ll report back. But I should post my powerpoint. It is that blunt.

    I want to say that I have been fired up by the conversation here, emboldened by the support of my colleagues, and challenged to make my thinking clearer by the comments of everyone here. I agree with Paula about the small revolution she’s starting in her classroom and school (don’t you just love the fact that the kids wanted an extra math session just for the sheer, utter interest of it? and wouldn’t we all like to be in Paula’s class?). And I, like Adam, think about the policy and legislative half.

    I’m am carrying my colleagues with me as I go into the fray.

    Posted by kirsten olson | May 4, 2010, 12:08 am
    • Kirsten, thank you for your courage, those kids are blessed to have you walking through their doors. Even if you are alone on stage, I’ll be right behind you cheering you on. You are doing vital work, thank you.

      If you could post your powerpoint I would love to see it. Heck can you have your presentation filmed and put on youtube?

      Buy yourself a drink, or an herbal tea, or a spa treatment or whatever is rejuvenating to you after you are done with this encounter. Bill it to Coop Catalyst!

      Posted by Adam Burk | May 4, 2010, 5:55 am
    • Speak truth to power.

      Posted by Chad Sansing | May 4, 2010, 1:49 pm
  5. Building on Paula’s revolution in the classroom check out this video!

    Posted by Adam Burk | May 4, 2010, 6:00 am
  6. I added the video to our tumblr site. I think the culture of the classroom can do a lot to move the culture of the school forward and the culture of the school to the community and from the community to the state level…etc.

    However to have the reform we are looking for we must have the culture want the reform and see the need to actually reform. That is the battle I think. How do we change a culture that is currently not looking to create a new way of life, but instead trying to find more and better medicines to the sickness.

    I think it would be worth our wild to read the first chapter of Kirsten’s book deschoolers. The deschoolers she highlights (Holt,Dennison, Goodman, Illich, Kohl), planted the seeds that we are now trying to sow. I wonder what we can learn from their success and failures.

    Posted by dloitz | May 4, 2010, 12:29 pm
  7. Hey Paula,

    I meant to say I am hoping to teach 1-3 grade students. I am currently working toward that. I see myself gain a few years of classroom experience and then finding money to open my own school either charter or independent.

    I am currently volunteer at a Waldorf school in a second grade classroom. Mostly helping with writing workshop and reading workshop. I am enjoying the classroom a lot. I am also currently working about 28 hours as a nanny for two family, both families have a 3 year old and a 5 year old.

    I have a background in film from Calarts. My hope is to use my thesis at Goddard to make a film about the education I hope to see in the world. Not sure what form it will come in.

    Have you seen “to be and to have”? The french documentary. One of my favorites.


    Posted by dloitz | May 4, 2010, 12:40 pm
  8. Paula, your post is great how-to for stand-up educators.

    This Spring I seem to be wondering a lot about what I think “the big picture” of schooling is. So, I wonder also about creating local opportunities for teachers and administrators to talk change. I wonder how to take a blog like this one and make it local with conversations that are just as sustainable and lead to action just as certainly.

    How would you reform the relationship between teachers and their divisions to create cultures for change? How would you initiate and sustain conversations like the ones we have here?

    Best regards, as ever,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | May 5, 2010, 9:08 am

    Posted by norma | May 26, 2010, 10:42 am


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