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Guest Posts, Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best

Uniting to Ensure Best Options for Students, Parents and Teachers (Guest Post by Lisa Nielsen)

by Lisa Nielsen, Author The Innovative Educator blog

Social media has become a mobilizing force in bringing together students, educators, and parents who are frustrated with the data-driven, standardized, one-size-fits all learning taking place in publicly funded schools today. Many of these groups have popped up with members joining and uniting against a system designed to reduce children to nothing more than standardized, easily measurable data to appear on a future chart that can bolster the ratings and egos of policy makers and business leaders.  Despite the fact that many educational leaders, educators, parents, and students know this is wrong parents like Gretchen Herrera are being forced to engage in practices that hurt children with threats of school closures and students being left behind or kicked out for failure to comply.

One of the biggest movements gaining momentum is the opt out of state testing with social media sites being created in the form Facebook groups, Facebook pages, and Yahoo groups which are connecting parents, educators, and students who are frustrated with forced government schooling policies.  In the past there was little information available to the public when it came to opting out of tests. Not surprisingly this information was hard to access and inconsistent.  This is, in part what the government agencies are banking on.

Fortunately with the advent of social media and Web 2.0 tools, concerned individuals are able to unite to find, share, and collect information.  One such effort to collect this information is The Opt Out of Standardized Tests – The National Movement Site.  Upon joining, group members can contribute relevant information from their state.  The beauty of this site is that the information is created and owned by anyone concerned about this issue.  The site is open to all concerned individuals who can find general and state by state information as well as a number of social media groups and pages to join.

I strive for a public system that welcomes everyone and helps to create learning communities that support both personal and communal growth through access to life long learning opportunities be them through schools, homes, community centers, libraries, parks, or any place that people young and old can gather to share in the co-creation of learning. I believe that for a healthy democracy and community that the system should be publicly funded and reject the ideas that we can standardized learning or teaching. We should look to support the well being of all humans not just those who can afford it!

–  David Loitz

Cooperative Catalyst member since 2010

IDEA Community Organizer

While opting out is a step in the right direction to achieve the above vision, there is a deeper conversation that must happen to address what some have called the rapid deterioration of public schools. However, rapid deterioration is misleading as we also need not fool ourselves about restoring our system to “the good old days.”  Remember in the good old days we implemented a factory model of learning, where schools were segregated, there were limited or no options for females to participate in sports, and it mostly only filtered men into subjects like math and science.  The outdated education system of today needs not only an update, but a transformation requiring a paradigm shift. To do that we must not be afraid to engage in difficult conversations that challenge traditional ideas of education.

This is because even if some parents earn and exercise the right for their children not to take standardized tests, there are many other issues that will still exist and will need to be addressed and discussed which include:

We need to explore alternatives, give parents choice for how education dollars can be spent, and instead of demanding a one-size-fits all school model, allow parents and students to decide a learning environment that they feel is ideal for their families. This may mean alternative school settings such as a Democracy school like Summerhill or Sudbury where there are no grades or grade levels. It could mean a passion driven model like Big Picture Schools.  It could mean supporting home education options. It might mean investing in learning centers rather than schools as explained here by Connie Coyle and Linda Dobson in their visions for radical school reform. To do this we must act and engage in the often challenging work and conversations.  Ones that will lead to giving choice to parents to ensure they have opportunities to provide the best possible learning options for their children without the control and imposition of government mandates which they do not support.

Okay, so now that the test is gone! Are we ready for some fun? Imagine it’s the next day…
What type of learning community will your family be joining? What does it look like and value…?  Think big, nothing is off limits! I mean really have some fun with it!  When you are done, share it below and let’s start making it happen!

Lisa Nielsen is an outspoken advocate of learning innovatively who is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” “Thinking Outside the Ban” to harness the power of technology for learning, sharing strategies to fix schools rather than fixing (or drugging) children, and for providing a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen writes for Huffington Post, EdReformer, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book “Teaching Generation Text.” You can follow her on Twitter at InnovativeEdu



24 thoughts on “Uniting to Ensure Best Options for Students, Parents and Teachers (Guest Post by Lisa Nielsen)

  1. There’s the idea that schools should be more like public libraries. That idea takes a hit from the practical reasons so many parents use schools — a safe place to house their children while they work. And feed them. But it’s a kernel of an idea that I think anyone who is a fan of libraries could build on. If tests were gone and standards were trashed and all that money could be put to better use. . . . dreaming. . . 🙂


    Posted by Nance Confer | August 29, 2011, 5:00 pm
  2. Serving all educators “Paradigm Shift” as a main entree this new school year! Yes, Lisa what’s needed in educational reform IS a paradigm shift, perhaps several. Here’s one that is tasty and nutritional!

    You spoke eloquently at the 140EDU Conference about helping youth discover their interests/passions, and create/ achieve personal success plans/learning networks.

    Another way to describe this, is helping K12 students discover themselves and the amazing world of making Career-Life choices.

    Schools should put more emphasis on “ career-life” exploration, re-defining career NOT as work, but as LIFE ROLES, one of which is called work and includes what you do for pay.

    The word “career” makes many people nervous for several reasons. Society believes/promotes career (career=work) IS very important, and therefore puts the word out for decades, “Get a four-year degree to be successful and get a good $$ job!”


Too many parents and educators/policy-makers believe/promote, “Why discuss career (career=work) with early K-6 students? They’re too young”

 Too many of these same people believe/promote, “Why discuss career (career=work) with my high school juniors and seniors who need a four-year college education FIRST, to really be successful in life? Sure, many jobs are available or will be, for OTHER students, but NOT my students; they’re headed for ‘ABC’ four-year college.”

    Too many college administrators/staff believe/promote, “Why discuss career (career=work) with entering college students who really aren’t ready to write their resumes and deal with job placement activities? It’s better to have them use the career center in their junior/senior year as they are about to graduate and look for jobs. “


If we continue this focus on career=work, millions of K12 and post-secondary students will deal with many people in their lives who basically share the sentiments above. We’re missing the boat, but our students are on board the Titanic, and we all know where it’s headed. There IS time to turn the boat, but it will take a collaborative effort to shift the paradigm away the traditional and dangerous paradigm, career=work, to this newer more relevant and powerful paradigm that will have more meaning for all stakeholders, career=life roles.

    This new paradigm makes dreams, passions, and goals important to students and students will start asking, “How can I reach my dreams/goals?”

    The very instant they ask that question, LEARNING becomes RELEVANT.

    We must have the necessary leadership, staff development, and funding for K-12 staff, to effectively allow them to work with students and encourage self-esteem, self-exploration, teamwork, taking responsibility, valuing intra and inter-personal communication, work ethic, many other important life skills, AND teaching students the importance of exploration and planning, at least for their next steps after school, with a written plan (that can change as they interact with life).

    This “plan” can be based on goals/dreams each student has in her/his heart/mind that is fueling the very unique and special spirit that every child has. Discovering this “sense of purpose” IS the job of parents and schools, especially teachers. Others can greatly assist, such as counselors and principals, even policy makers and budget developers. But ONLY parents and teachers have the consistent individual and group contact that can nurture this discovery process and allow it to sufficiently evolve and bloom.

    You also mention the necessity of helping youth set goals. Yes, having goals IS important, even in the context of uncertainty that affects all people everywhere. Teaching youth and adults the importance of having an attitude of adaptability provides an easier way to navigate one’s journey.

    I recently coined this term because it captures one component of effective career-life exploration and planning all K12 students and adults should learn and practice as they experience their career-life roles in the context of uncertainty that occurs in all our lives.

    New Tweet Chat #schools2life (2nd/4th Thurs 8-9pmEDT USA) & LinkedIn Support Site

    If you or your readers are interested, please bring your wisdom and enthusiasm to our new Tweet Chat and LinkedIn support site where we discuss the huge transition all K12 students face after school, and explore how can parents and educators can collaborate as leaders to improve how we can more effectively prepare students for LIFE?

    Thanks Lisa for your passion to innovate and instigate reform, and to open hearts and minds to discover the magic of learning and better ways to make it more successful. EdC

    Posted by Edward Colozzi (@EdwardColozzi) | August 29, 2011, 5:42 pm
  3. Lisa, thanks so much for sharing this post with us on the Coöp – I’m sorry not to have spent more time talking with you at #ISTE11.

    If we invent new learning spaces, does that equate to entering a post-school culture? I wonder often about my role as a teacher and my necessity – which varies student by student – even now. I like a lot of questions that Kirsten has posed regarding the role of current teachers in a transformed public education system. Where should teachers go from here? The job, as it stands, in most ways, is opposed to having the conversations you cite as necessary. Our professional unions do not unite over the initiatives we might choose for ourselves.

    Oh, for a hundred billion dollars and a shadow education department.

    If learning goes where we want it to go, where does teaching go? Where do teachers go? What or who is waiting for us over there?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | August 29, 2011, 7:49 pm
    • Perhaps on a formal level teachers might leave. However, the role of the teacher has been around for millennia. In some cultures, it was an apprenticeship model, others a sage and a story-teller. I’m not ready to abandon that.

      I want everyone to teach, but I want some people who spend their lives as teachers perfecting the identity of teaching . I want everyone to participate in art, but I still believe in artists. Music is great for all people, but I still want professional musicians. I want everyone to work toward better physical health, but we still need doctors.

      I believe in the profession of teaching (and not out of self-preservation. I could kick ass at sales if I really wanted to go that route). I believe that a more inclusive, post-school environment would still need people to teach our culture what it means to teach. Yes, learning is natural. However, spending one’s life learning the art of drawing that out is still a noble profession.

      Perhaps, instead, our role could change to one of mentoring, discussing, listening, facilitating. I would love for the children in my community to do community service, paint murals, film documentaries, explore science in a meaningful way, read, advocate, write and all with multimedia tools. However, we still need adults to guide this process, to organize it and to cast a vision for what it looks like. Maybe the teachers will look more like writers, counselors, artists and scientists. Maybe that’s what the profession will look like, but I still think the profession is necessary.

      I know I’ll get push back on this and honestly I’m already second-guessing whether I should bother arguing for the necessity of teachers. However, I think it’s unwise to do away with teachers.

      Posted by John T. Spencer | August 29, 2011, 11:45 pm
      • John,

        I love your vision of teaching. I think honestly our vision would work within the system we have now. It would sure make it a more attractive job. I think the best teachers are just how you describe it.

        I am ready to look beyond the idea of what it means to be an expert, IE “going to college and get this and this piece of paper” but not because I don’t think anyone is served by spending a period of time being reflective and studying, discussing, questioning and doing their chosen field, but because often college doesn’t do that… and many great teachers will never go to school and should have space to teach…but often if we even suggest that…. you are seen as attacking teachers…. I think great teachers will always have a job and a place in society… but I do hope it changes…

        I can’t wait to finally have the piece of paper that I am a teacher…officially 🙂

        David, your favorite pupil!

        Posted by dloitz | August 29, 2011, 11:55 pm
        • I’m up for that, so long as the learning center model offers teachers a chance to earn a living wage. As it is, my family can’t afford healthcare. It sucks. If we truly want to embrace the description above (and I don’t think it’s a bad one), I think we have to deal with inequitable pay. Volunteers have their place, but I think they should supplement rather than replace teachers.

          Posted by John T. Spencer | August 30, 2011, 12:07 am
        • Oh I am for a living wage! I think in this model and this world, Teachers are the most noble profession and those should be paid like it. Though I am not sure there is any job, that does not deserve a living wage. People who work should be able to be paid well, to support their family and to have health care.

          I guess in the vision I see, living wage is not an issue, because a lot of other things have changed too.

          I strive for a world where living wage is the Minimum wage! and greed is for the history books.


          Posted by dloitz | August 30, 2011, 12:15 am
    • Excellent questions. I would like to hear what teachers would create with those billions if unfettered and able to recreate. I sure would like to hear. When I think over the course of history, what time were their no teachers? I can remember none.

      Posted by Sandra | August 30, 2011, 8:00 am
  4. See Chad, I think teaching will transform just the same. Look at the work Monika is doing. We all need mentors and guides, people to help us find knowledge, to help lead us, to challenge our thinking, to know when to step away and let us be. We need teachers, they will just not be doing all the talking….

    Even in the preschool I work in, I have moments where I get the feeling I don’t need to be there…. but also I think we just shift back into learners ourselves. When needed we would be there to help, to lead classes, workshops, lessons.

    I see a system that would have to be year round and include not just “School-age” students. There would be places for adults to work with children and adults to work with adults and children to work with children.

    But then again we might have to start with the idea of career, and what it means to work… I am really digging Edwards’ idea of career-life. I have been brainstorming on the idea of “project based living”…..

    How would that change our idea of work. I think people would still want to master something or have some sort of passion that lasts a life time, but others like myself who like to try a lot of things, might be better served in a project based environment where I learn what is need to help solve a problem or create a product or open a business.

    This is just a seed, but I think a lot of people can be so caught up in staying where they are and moving around the deck chairs. I want to jump on the life raft and see what is out there… it might just be better, it might not be… might just find myself on a 40 day cruise… if so, I would love to have you, Chad as the Skipper…. 🙂

    If your role as a teacher could be anything, what would it be, how would your days look?

    Lets keep pushing forward!


    Posted by dloitz | August 29, 2011, 11:45 pm
  5. Just tossing out a different perspective. I want to preface this by mentioning that I want to be respectful about this:

    My students have parents who work two or three jobs. They still need adults in their lives to guide them through this natural process. I love what you describe above, but it can’t happen without true systemic, social change through our society.

    I have mixed feelings about things like compulsory education. While I disagree with it, I know that many of my students will miss days out of the year to work construction or farm labor. I also know that my students’ parents can opt-out and choose to home-school and un-school and many of them don’t have that type of opportunity.

    I mention this, not because I believe I can “save” them, but because I believe education matters and I owe it to their parents who entrust me to help their children think well about life. I do my best to be humble, humane and respectful to their families, their culture and our community.

    It’s more than that, though.

    As arrogant as this sounds, I don’t believe I can easily be replaced. Simply changing the system won’t replace the reality that education is a relational endeavor. I still belong here. I still matter.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | August 29, 2011, 11:50 pm
    • I think children should be in some sort of learning community, not just for their good but for the communities. While I am a supporter of unschooling, I personally like the community that happens when children are together, I want it to be open to more adults, so head teachers, guides, but also community members and artists and cooks, experts who might want to spend everyday being guides…

      SO last night I came up with idea called Guidance teams, I am just jamming on this and it is just a rough idea…

      Each child would have a team of adults, peers and family members who would be there for them over the course of their whole life… this would very much include a teacher must like we have now….but instead of leaving that children every year, they would sign on for an extended time… Like all teachers, some will click and some will not… students and parents would have the chance to move on, if they are not working…. and every 4 years or so a new one would be added… and lead become the head teacher… I still think learning would happen most often in a social setting with groups of children who stay together for a extend time… but also have a chance to move to other groups that might be learning what the need or want to be learning at the time.

      Now I have not figured out how these group would be paid… I think what we need to realized that while good teachers can’t be replace, they also can’t do it alone.

      I don’t think anything you said is arrogant… I had some pretty great teachers growing up, who I still ask for advice and who I chat with on Facebook. I wish as someone who grow up with a single mom and on the poverty line… that they had been around sooner and longer.

      just thinking,


      Posted by dloitz | August 30, 2011, 12:10 am
    • “I don’t believe I can easily be replaced. Simply changing the system won’t replace the reality that education is a relational endeavor. I still belong here. I still matter.”
      Somehow in the discussion of alternatives, the significance of the teacher and teaching professional gets lost, doesn’t it. The intrusion of standardized testing, federal initiatives on reading and the common core initiatives have diminished true teaching to reading a script.

      Any discussion about “after the test is gone” must include an open and honest discussion regarding the role of the teacher. With luck the tests will go, and then what do teachers envision? Going back before NCLB or to what? What does that renewed role look like? Tell me teacher, I’m listening.

      Posted by Sandra | August 30, 2011, 8:09 am
  6. Though you might be interested in this….

    “Now the time is at hand to pioneer again, avoiding the unfortunatenational “re” trap- restructuring, reforming, rethinking-and instead, turning the century through imagining, inventing, implementing-thereby creating their educational futures.” -Don Glines

    Click to access Creating_Educational_Futures.pdf


    Posted by dloitz | August 30, 2011, 1:40 am
    • “Imagining, inventing, implementing….” – In my humble opinion, there seems to be decades of research and evidence of what works with children from a variety of backgrounds, but those successful models get tossed. Perhaps, as if tossed to the land of lost ideas, some that were most promising will re-emerge.

      Posted by Sandra | August 30, 2011, 8:19 am
  7. This is somewhat unrelated but connected.. What about Teachers as producers… or Project leaders….again something that could happen within the current system if we got a little bit more creative…this is what I see John doing and Monika doing and others…

    This project by Damon Albarn and others produced a album over 5 days with a group of musician in the DRC. Personally I think this is awesome!


    Posted by dloitz | August 30, 2011, 5:18 pm
    • Back to the Future: An Educational Trip for Dreamers with Bold Visions and No DeLorean!

      Teachers ARE producers (facilitators and guides who successfully shepherd an event/outcome) as are counselors and principals–as are ALL educators. But we need to support this paradigm with “right” leadership (from principals/schools boards/public policy-makers), and equitable pay (ditto) that honors what producers do. Such efforts can result in an amazing outpouring of creativity from students who are eager for such collaboration, as your video clip demonstrates.

      Notice how happy the people in your video are; notice how everyone works together for a common goal yet providing THEIR special participation/talent/passion to make the whole greater than the sum of it’s parts.

      This is what education is supposed to be all about. Dewey had it right years ago when he spoke of education as a way of working with students in engaging ways (especially working with their interests and prior experiences to deepen their connection to learning), to help students discover meaning in a subject area and realize their full potential, learn skills and knowledge to successfully deal with LIFE, and also be able to contribute back to their communities for the greater good. He was a proponent of hands-on learning and an influencer of project-based learning where students play an active role in their own learning.

      Career-Life is the New DeLorean
      Doing this in the context of re-defining career=work to the newer more powerful and relevant paradigm, career=life roles (as I commented in an earlier post), one of which is “worker” and another of which is “learner”, allows teachers (all educators) to collaborate as producers, with students who are ALSO producers, and education suddenly becomes interesting and relevant. Work still has meaning in the context of this newer paradigm, and learning can be better appreciated as relevant to not only work, and one’s dreams and goals, but across all life roles, thus, educating for life–NOT a test!

      Thanks David for moving this discussion further along. Maybe we truly are in the process of going Back to the Future as we examine what Dewey envisioned, how we have wavered from that philosophy, and what part of Dewey’s vision we must re-capture today for our collective future. EdC

      Posted by Edward Colozzi (@EdwardColozzi) | August 30, 2011, 7:20 pm
    • David, this is great and I also notice how few women are “seen” here on camera, and lots of white people as “organizers.”


      Posted by Kirsten | September 1, 2011, 11:16 am
  8. I’m in the passion-based learning focused camp. 🙂

    My perspective is that, as a society, as educators and especially as parents, we need to move in a direction that celebrates square, octagon, triangle, hexagon AND round pegs…not just shave off the corners of the aforementioned ones to fit into the round holes that someone else has deemed the “ideal” size and shape.

    We should be “Butterfly Parents” as opposed to “Tiger Mothers” listening to our kids and allowing them to show us the types of education and methods of learning they’re hungry for when they’re young “caterpillars” so that we can give them what they need to transform into beautiful, unique “butterflies” as adults that everyone admires. By telling kids that they’re not “smart” if they don’t score well on standardized tests…or force feeding our kids the types of instruments we as parents want them to play or activities that we deem “acceptable”…or only allowing participation in activities where they can win first place or a gold medal…we are not encouraging them to blossom in their own unique ways.

    A greater risk that Tiger Mothers and a Tiger-esque education system represent to us as a society is that, by creating carbon copies of an ideal and–in some cases–degrading children that don’t fit that mold, we are potentially losing out on some of those brilliant young minds having the freedom to think in new and different ways…and contribute to society in ways that we couldn’t even imagine. And, most importantly, creating an aversion to learning in our youth, rather than an appetite for it.

    Jen Lilienstein
    * * * * * *
    Learning is meant to be FUN!

    Posted by kidzmet | August 31, 2011, 6:09 pm
  9. In my kitchen we have a huge poster that says: Learning Is Fun and a group of kids running around chasing each other. Picture made in 1963 in relation to John Holt’s work.


    Posted by Kirsten | September 1, 2011, 11:14 am
  10. I want you to know that as I first sat down to write a story about a simple event from my sophomore year of high school, I received a call that the man I was writing about, Mr. KH, had a heart attack and walked on today. He was 73 years young. News of KH’s death shakes me for I had sat down to write about one small act he had performed. He was first a human, and was a teacher only after that, the salience of which I will try to make clear.

    I do not mean to defuse major efforts to effect significant changes in education, but I am sure you know that the acronym “KISS” references the notion that you should “Keep it simple, Stupid”. KH would have agreed.

    During his life, he never knew that shortly after a suicide gesture/attempt I had made, he saved me from following up with a more certain outcome. It was a simple thing that he did, really, and I am now unable to express my gratitude, to let him know he had saved my life.

    KH gave me a book.

    I cannot remember its title. I recall it was a paperback that was quite small and of relatively short length.

    It explained that there were alternative ways to obtain an education, and that even the path to and through college did not need to be the one traditionally taken. It gave me hope, something to live for. It helped me to become a high school drop out and allowed me to escape was killing me. It helped me to “drop in” to college.

    Through the confluence of wacky events that seem to comprise my life, I was able to thank KH for the book this past summer. I told him about how my life had changed because of what he had done. He did not recall the specific book, but did recall I had been something of a “silent rebel”.

    KH looked like I remembered him to be, only a good deal older. His personality and outlook on life had not changed much from what I could remember of him. He was still enlivened by doing good deeds for others. He was still incensed by injustices. He was still “KH”.

    The years had also changed me. I had been a “long hair” in high school. I am nearly at the same point today, but with a lot of white mixed in with the black. I look and act older and have become much more like KH who seemed fascinated when he heard of my accomplishments over the 35 years that elapsed since he last saw me.

    It was a simple thing he did, really. My wife says he knew how important his act was to me, but I do not believe he knew how Very important his act had been.

    Be mindful that each of you, by pointing out alternatives to students or suggesting “a good book”, it really does not need to be much, may very well save a student’s life. A simple gesture. A human gesture. A teacher’s gesture.

    I would not be alive today were it not for a teacher. Mr. KH

    Posted by Brent Snavely | September 3, 2011, 7:24 pm


  1. Pingback: Uniting to Ensure Best Options for Students, Parents and Teachers (Guest Post by Lisa Nielsen) | Cooperative Catalyst | - August 31, 2011

  2. Pingback: Lisa Nielsen: Back to School Doesn’t Have to Mean Back to Tests | - September 4, 2011

  3. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Lisa Nielsen: Back to School Doesn’t Have to Mean Back to Tests - September 4, 2011

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