Can we spare some change in education?

I want to share some thoughts about change in education. Who am I kidding? I have some questions that are masked as thoughts.

But first…a story.

During the Summer of 1985 I studied French at McGill University in Montreal. As part of my program I was free to roam about the city on days off to practice my new language skills. I would walk into shops and restaurants completely fearless of trying out my French with everyone and anyone willing to listen. I spoke to street corner preachers, tourists and the locals.

One person, in particular, who seemed to have time to talk was a pan-handler who worked the passing crowds outside of this large department store on Rue Ste.Catherine. He seemed to make a fairly decent wage asking passers-by for their spare change, and he let me practice my French until I became a hindrance to his business.

As I recall, it was an amazingly hot Summer that year. Throat parchingly so, if you will? One day, on a ‘sortie’ to the ‘liquid refreshment supply store’, I found myself a couple of bucks short at the till. Motivated and thirsty, I thought what harm would there be in soliciting some support from the immediate community like my friend in front of La Baie? I’ll translate a couple of the interactions…

Moi: Madame je suis au desespoir que j’ai pas assez de piastres pour mes achats. Pouvez-vous m’aider? Could you spare some change madame?
Response: Va-t’en! Espèce de… Beat it! (followed by some colourful metaphors)

Moi: Pardon monsieur. J’ai pas assez de fonds pour acheter quelques boissons rafraîchissantes. Peux-tu m’aider? Sir, I’m a couple of bucks short of a 12 pack. Can you help me out?
Response: Tiens-toi! Santé. Here you go. Cheers! Simpsons Educational-change

From insults and indifference one moment, to a helping hand-out to a broke student; a little change made a difference that day. I share this story because I wonder if getting change in education could be as easy as sticking my hand out and asking for it? Many would be right to argue that most people would prefer to wait for change to happen, and then react to it rather than being able to respond to it. And still, there are others who would choose to just go out and be/make change instead.

Maybe asking for change is a prelude to a confrontation? “Who do you think you are? You can’t just ask for change in education?! It comes from years of research by people in ivory towers who know better. Not you!”

Thankfully, the days of transmission styled top down change are disappearing, or its proponents are dying off.  Inshallah! So where are we heading as teachers when change is still being prescribed without consulting those most affected by it? Us. I know you thought of some expletives, and the words hand-basket might too have been part of your answer.

What seems more troublesome in the world of education are the differences between so many competing ideological points of light that are been seen as “beacon(s) of change” many of which are flash-in-the-pan/blinding attempts to “fix” education. Is that the role of change? To fix education, or confuse it? Or can change serve to construct and fortify everything that it’s learnt from the past? Thankfully, there are some unifying voices, as you’ll see below, working to shine a positive light in education.

Over the past 3 months I’ve been developing my own understanding in the area of change in education through the written works and videos of Michael Fullan, Allan Luke, Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley (all 4 I’ve been privileged to meet at recent YRDSB Quest Conferences). By providing clarity, wisdom and direction their’s is a change worth asking for, working towards and believing in. In fact Shirley’s Fourth Way is now an integral part of our entire board vision to “Inspire Learning”.


What I can see now with the practical and sustainable thinking of their collective works is a equal parts caution and exhortation. We need to be careful with change in education that it does not steer us away from what has worked well, but we also need to admit when something is not working, learn from it and move forward.

What I’m asking for is time, understanding, partnership, encouragement, mentorship and for my our voices to be heard before, during and after change happens. Thank you.

The Fourth Way by Hargreaves and Shirley on slideshare (alt version)


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