The “backpack” of the educational system and curricular design is filled with many pockets of power. Some large pockets seem to carry the weight while other small pockets house the incidental yet often necessary tools for the 21st century classroom. Who is in that weight-bearing pocket? Educators? Legislators? Publishers? Politicians? Parents? Students? Just as we shift our belongings around in our backpacks to accommodate the load we carry, the pockets of power have shifted among the various groups at different times. As we focus on the STAAR tests, our attention turns to the power of the standardized tests. Certainly, Pearson currently wields a great deal of power in the state of Texas as the publisher of the standardized tests and most of the adopted textbooks. I would dare say they serve their own interests in the form of the bottom line. Unfortunately, the standardized test seems to be driving the decisions we make at all levels in education.
However, I agree with my colleagues that the true power, though often untapped, still lies with the educator in the classroom and the parent in the community. Though many perceive their power to be limited, unwanted, or not valued, educators and parents are partners in the education of their children. By sheer numbers alone, they have the power to invoke change – at the local, state, or national level. Teachers often fear the involvement of parents, for parents are not the educational professionals and often have personal agendas. While that may be true, we as educators, as professionals, need the support of parents in the community as partners in education to set high expectations for learning that is not solely centered on a standardized test but is meeting the needs of individual students.
Wouldn’t it be a better world if we didn’t have pockets of power at all but were all in the same bag? How great would our nation be if we worked cooperatively to serve the individual needs of our students! Having attended several conferences, workshops, and seminars with Philip Schlechty (2009) of the Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform, I appreciate his model of the school as a “learning organization” where students are “viewed as volunteers rather than conscripts” who attend school to learn material that is relevant to them, teachers are “leaders, designers of work for students, and guides to instruction,” and principals are “leaders of leaders.” I love those terms . . . designers of work and guides to instruction. Schlechty further defines the learning organization by describing parents as partners, central office staff as “capacity builders . . . in partnership with building-level leaders,” and school board members as “community builders and community leaders” responsible for engaging the community in “serious dialogue about the school.”
Let’s engage in serious dialogue about learner-centered schools.