8.1 Professional Practice – Participating in a Professional Community
Developing relationships and open discussion with other educators, emerging and experienced, has been a key part of processing the purpose of public education. The constantly changing landscape of education reform in the US, and Washington State, is filled with polarizing opinions, debates, and methods of improvement. Driven by “the search for a panacea” (Hunt, 2005, p.85) to social problems, legislation at different times in history has altered the purpose, funding, and importance of public education. Whether it is the increased emphasis of STEM subjects from A Nation at Risk (1983) or standards based testing through NCLB (2001) schools and teachers are still feeling the effects of education reform efforts. While I continue to understand and empathize with the academic environment I will enter into, collaborating with other professionals challenges me to question the sources of reform and imagine change coming from communities and not just government.
Figure 1 and 2 depict snippets of a discussion on federal and state expansion of education responsibilities. Fellow educators shared my confusion and concern with the disagreements and disappointments with government-fueled change. One question mentioned in light of federal and state balance in education was: “do you think that this sort of conflicts can be solved at a national level?” (figure 1, 2015). My response was pessimistically no, but then I thought of an alternative.
Sometimes change begins with individuals, families, and communities. While I felt a bit silly and idealistic, it was encouraging to see how other educators also shared their hope in the possibilities (figure 2). Practically though, if I believe that conflict resolution can begin with individuals, I can become part of the dialogue my local schools by learning about teachers, parents and community members and their goals for education.
Discussion has also helped introduce questions that I still struggle with answering, and perhaps still don’t have an answer for in understanding the complex factors in education. In Figure 3, I had expressed my frustration with the ever increasing expectations for schools in the lives of students and their communities. In this case though, a teacher posed the question, “exactly, what other institution are there for doing what education reformers want, private religious or educational institutions?” (figure 3, 2015). Looking outside of the school this question made me consider other places that students learn to work and learn together, such as community clubs and sports, churches and places of worship, neighborhoods and local shared spaces. While as a teacher, suggesting religious direction may not be appropriate, yet I can still encourage students to become part of the groups, teams, and causes that they are passionate about. In school I can participate by leading or hosting a school club in my classroom, outside of school I can still encourage the families and children I know to become involved in and support their local communities.
There are parts of educational reform history that has been written into laws, but there are parts that still remain in the hands of proactive, compassionate educators. While I may not determine the standards or curriculum that I teach students, or have much say in how schools are funded, I do have an influence in the lives of my students and those educators I come in contact with. Education reform and change is literally a learning and growing process much better experienced together than alone.
Hunt, T.C. (2005). Education Reforms: Lessons from History. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(1), pp.84-89.