In a previous post I discussed service and humility. Defining humility not as a condition of meekness or subservience. But the willingness to be a dynamic force, even a change agent, without expectation of acknowledgement or reward.
Humility is the opposite of deferential compliance. Which is meeting expectations of those who have found ways to exercise dominance over others. To remain docile and even emotionally paralyzed when encountering the juggernaut of political preferences or managerial power.
I am in the process of converting the blog, newlearninginfrastructure.com, into a book manuscript titled The New Learning Infrastructure: Educators with the Courage to Reform Local Schools. As I wrote the blog and prepared the book manuscript, many courageous educators who inspired me came to mind.
Four of them were and still are my greatest source of inspiration. Who they are and reasons why they inspire me in the realm of authentic school reform:
Nebraska’s STARS (School-based, Teacher-led Assessment and Reporting System) is an assessment and reporting system created to support efforts to improve the local schools of the state. The foundation of STARS was three dimensional: (1) originates in the classroom and at the school-level, not the state level; (2) focuses on teaching and learning, not test scores; and (3) provides the data and evidence to support the work of educators and policymakers in improving the quality of decision-making and improvement initiatives.
STARS and its minimal “regulations” built partnerships between the state and the local schools to strengthen curriculum, instruction, and assessment for improved student learning. The STARS system used a different set of philosophies, policies, and practical ideas than the federal No Child Left Behind initiative. Resulting in conflicts and uneasy compromises which have taken center stage since 2001.
Doug Christensen courageously fought imposition of the federal mandate, eventually needing to compromise in order to receive federal funds for discretionary school improvement. Nonetheless, Nebraska was the last state to accede to federal pressure to receive ESEA support. Elements of the STARS program still exist in Nebraska.
Courage is best reflected in the willingness to accept significant challenges, even when circumstances are vague and not especially promising. It is more remarkable when the ongoing effort to achieve results is full of obstacles and complicated problems. Problems like client acceptance of new ideas and strategies. Significant changes in personal and organizational behaviors.
Carol Roach authored and implemented excellent public school curricular guides for law-related education. She worked closely with the Kansas Joint Commission on Public Understanding of the Law. She later created a series of effective training workshops for community college extension programs, businesses, and public agencies, known as Effective Methods of Teaching/Training Seminars. In 1991 she was co-founder of the Curriculum Leadership Institute (CLI). She co-authored The Curriculum Leader book and dozens of other materials used by public schools throughout the United States and overseas. Carol conducted workshops in hundreds of locations and was a consultant to many school districts and other educational entities such as consortia.
Every project Carol led involved courage to advocate out-of-the-box thinking and acting. Most important is her service as role-model to those now employed by or associated with the Curriculum Leadership Institute. After 30 years, CLI continues to provide nationally recognized nonprofit assistance to the nation’s schools. Carol’s legacy is exceptional. Unparalleled service based on courage and unselfish dedication.
Courageous service is often a product of a leader’s fascination with history and the exploration of the “what ifs” of human existence. Often those thoughts result in exploring ideas that serendipitously seem to work for no predetermined reason. Something like Arnold Toynbee’s observation, “History is just one damn thing after another.”
The genius of Dan Lumley’s courageous service is detailed in his leadership of curriculum and instruction in three school districts in Kansas and Missouri. His fascination with how people interact intellectually, thereby becoming more engaged and motivated. Dan’s service is also based on an ability to give the ordinary a novel and even humorous twist. A skill that makes students and his workshop attendees see the world through a different lens. Difficult to write into a public-school curriculum because it is anything but unidimensional with just one correct answer.
Dan’s approach to learning aligns well with the new emphasis on creativity as being the preeminent learning outcome in the new Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Today’s learning theorists avoid the term “learning objectives.” They view learning as a dynamic process, more suitable to 21st century work and living. Dan has advocated that idea for decades, which stimulates students and fellow educators to become more than they thought was possible.
In 2010, the Kansas State Department of Education sponsored a committee that wrote Teacher Leader Standards. School district support was sought for teachers to defray expenses of earning the endorsement and a $1000 permanent addition to base salary provided by the legislature. Ken Weaver ensured that Emporia State University would be the first to sign on to the project by offering a teacher leader endorsement. Although lack of funding caused by the 2009 recession stopped project development, ESU continues to have an area of concentration in teacher leadership. Five “domains” that emphasize professional collaboration in using research to improve teaching, learning, and use of data for school improvement.
Although the original project is dormant, Ken’s interim leadership of the National Teachers Hall of Fame is now connected with the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. A strategic plan built on teacher leadership. Ken encourages the members of the National Teachers Hall of Fame to use their NTHF platform to elevate the awareness of the bold initiatives they established as dynamic and creative teacher leaders to change schools.
Ken has provided courageous service in previous endeavors as a Peace Corps volunteer, public school teacher, professor of educational psychology, department chair, and college dean. All those contributions bode well for his exercise of leadership in an organization that for 30 years contributed much to the betterment of American schools. And is poised to do even more in the years ahead.
These four educational leaders demonstrated and continue to provide dynamic service. As opposed to passive and compliant ministrations.
“Dynamic” has many synonyms that underscore its power as an action. Among them are forward-looking, energetic, vital, and vigorous. I add other descriptors that incorporate creativity, essential problem-solving, and incisive sensitivity that result in finding new solutions to perennially perplexing problems.
And above all the courage to assert themselves as people who give their everything to making a significant difference.
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