By Joan Richardson
I have never trusted movie reviews. Or TV critics. Or book reviewers. Or restaurant critics. Maybe because I spent my first career in the newspaper business and knew a lot of these folks, I learned early on that their taste wasn’t necessarily my taste.
Worse are the critics and reviewers that I’ve never even met! Why would I ever trust them?
When I want to know whether a movie or a television program is worth seeing, I call my friend Chris for an insightful review. When Mary recommends a book, I rush to Amazon to buy it. When Sandy raves about a new restaurant, I make plans to try it.
Whether we’re analyzing the latest political caper or kibitzing about neighborhood issues, I know these women will give a meaningful appraisal that I can use. We’re roughly the same age, have had similar professional careers while also raising children, and share the same social values. Rarely have they steered me wrong.
The reason Facebook and LinkedIn have been such successes, at least in part, is because we’re all connecting with people we know and trust. And the messages we hear from trusted friends are more valuable to us than the cacophony of promotions and reviews from those we don’t know.
So, we shouldn’t be too surprised to read in the November issue of Kappan about the importance of relationships in spreading innovation in schools. In fact, it’s one of those concepts that seem so simple, so obvious that I wonder why we even have to talk about this.
Quite simply, most of us are more likely to listen to an idea from someone we know and respect. When some far-away person, especially someone in authority, tries to tell us what to do, that just rubs us the wrong way. They don’t know my kids! They haven’t worked in this district!
The out-of-town expert with a briefcase is much less likely to win over a teacher to a new idea than a teacher down the hall. Brazosport, Texas, which underwent enormous changes in the 1990s was a great example of a district that learned from the work of a single teacher. She had credibility with other teachers because she was working with students exactly like their students, had exactly the same resources they had, and developed a new idea by herself.
Likewise, the Alabama Best Practices Center put together networks of teachers, principals, and superintendents so they could share ideas and learn from each other. They answered a hunger among educators who recognized that there was much to learn from others like them who had confronted similar problems.
These are the same lessons that Success for All has embraced. Instead of sending in a cadre of external experts, SFA has developed teachers within each of its partner schools who can then teach their colleagues.
Young educators, in particular, are sending this message loudly enough that even their older brethren should be able to hear it: They do not trust traditional forms of professional development. What they trust are the relationships they develop themselves, even if they’re with educators they’ve never met in person. They don’t want to sit in a room and be lectured. They want to learn from someone who is more like them than the traditional presenter at the front of the room.
All of this works, at least in part, because when we speak to someone one on one, we drop all the research babble and education jargon, and we just speak from heart. We look into someone’s eyes, and we know instantly whether they’re getting the message or not, and we adapt. We use precise language. We use examples that they can understand.
How differently would schools and districts operate if we would simply encourage teachers and principals to share what they know with each other? How much knowledge are we wasting? How many good ideas never spread beyond one classroom or one school because we just won’t make the time to allow teachers to talk with and learn from each other?
Within any given school or district reside the wisdom of dozens and hundreds of smart educators who are learning from their work every day. They want to share what they know. Listen to them. And learn.