Guest blog by Jeffrey Benson.
As the decades that I have worked in schools begin to pile up, I have come to call myself an educational elder—someone trying to synthesize and dispense whatever wisdom I have gleaned through the years; it’s what elders have done in traditional communities all over the world. Most of my work is focused on making schools exquisitely respectful organizations, where our ideals of democratic inclusion and robust education for every child move an inch or two closer to reality, even for the most challenging students.
Along the way I’ve been hired to help school systems hold more effective IEP meetings, and to help staff work better as a team, and to problem-solve for marginalized students, and to increase the use of authentic assessments, and to shape the study of literature for developing social skills—it’s all the same pie, the same Teachers21 notion of building reflective learning cultures that improve steadily through effort and teamwork. Wherever I gain entry, the fractal of exquisite respect and learning theory has a chance to crystalize.
Unfortunately, even when teachers and administrators give me high marks for my efforts, I find that improvements I may have helped to bring about are rarely full-bodied and lasting. Although my workshops, presentations, and coaching provide schools with a common language, inspiration, and skills, these are too often adopted piecemeal and at random –there’s not a reliable approach to implementing change. Everyone knows you have to do more than bring aboard an educational elder—but most schools don’t consistently know what else to do. I wrote Ten Steps To Managing Change in Schools (ASCD 2015) to provide a predictable template for improving a school. It’s a model that can be adapted to almost all program initiatives, so school leadership doesn’t have to exert time and energy to reinvent the wheel with every new improvement campaign.
One of the lessons all elders bring with us is that reality is never as predictable as we might think. A mentor of mine warned me: “Be nimble in your leadership.” I like this new book and I know it needs to be adapted, to be used as a touchstone, not as a millstone. Change is a process, not an event; it’s never completely “done.” I am hoping that the tools and concepts in the book allow all of us who strive to make schools better find our efforts connected to a larger understanding of school improvement.