Based in Long Beach, California, "Teach Me Mr. West" is a blog by Jason West. His posts explore the rewards and challenges of being a highly effective 21st century educator.

Thanks, Obama.

Thanks, Obama.

Bart Simpson Chalkboard.jpeg

Yeah, I hear ya. There has been a lot to process over the last 6 weeks on this website. Believe me, I understand. What started out as a post about giving homework, quickly turned into a 5-part series that sort of felt like getting homework. Duly noted.

So let me use this final post to wrap this all up in a neat little package by explaining where we go next and what we can all do with the questions we’ve tried to answer in these last four blog posts. No, I’m not talking about how many readers I can alienate with 2,500-word blog posts about educational reform strategies and my favorite Simpsons references. I’m talking about how to create real, lasting change.

So what is change, exactly? Well, according to Google, the word change dates all the way back to 2007, when a plucky senator from Illinois named Barack Obama first coined the phrase (coincidentally, he also coined the term “hope” in the same year—who knew??). And while we may or may not have Obama to thank for inventing the word, we can definitely thank him for giving us the best description of change anyone has ever come up with.

See, back in 2014, then-President Barack Obama met with a group of young black activists who were, understandably, upset about the unrest both leading up to and immediately following the Ferguson protests (stay with me, I swear I’ll bring this whole thing home). In this meeting, the young activists expressed their frustration over the lack of strength of Obama’s response to the police shooting that led to the protests. Obama then, in his typically eloquent manner, offered up this advice to the young activists that completely sums up the idea of change in all things, everywhere—because, of course he was able to do this in a single sentence! Barack Obama is basically what would happen if Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker somehow had a bi-racial baby who, despite having the full powers of the force, was mediocre at basketball, yet preternaturally good at civics. Anyway, in this meeting with young activists, Obama explained that change wasn’t something that happened overnight.

Change, he said, was both “hard and incremental.”

As the kids would say, I’ve been “on one” for years about the critical need for educational reform and finding the most basic ways in which teachers can affect change. The whole point of this 5-part series wasn’t to bore you all to tears or significantly reduce my weekly readership (though, mission accomplished just the same, amirite everyone? Please stop nodding your heads). The whole point of these 5 blog posts has been to illustrate that educators can actually affect a significant amount of change with the shockingly small amount of control we actually have in the world of education.

See, right now—today, in fact—we can affect change in our classrooms through our pedagogy and our assessment strategies.

I used to get all worked up about this. Seriously, my wife has pretended to not know me on more than a handful of occasions because some random person at some random dinner party (or at some random bar or at some random family gathering on Christmas) would brazenly suggest something like, “The problem with kids these days is that they don’t get enough homework” or “In education, like life, all we do is give out participation trophiesoh, you didn’t do any work? Here’s an A!” or “Back when I was in school…[insert verbal diarrhea here].”

But now, when I start to feel my blood pressure rising, I start to hear the sweet, angelic voice of my former (non-orange) President in the back of my mind. And he reminds me that change is both hard and incremental. Then he sings that Al Green song and I just stay in that happy place and swoon for a few moments longer. *Sigh*

We can and should absolutely talk to people with different views than us. It is important for us to ask and answer questions about sensitive topics—and the way we assess our students is one of the most sensitive topics we have in education. But we won’t be able to argue someone into submission (You’re totally right! I’ve been doing it wrong the whole time! Tell me more!!!).

The key, I’ve found, is to first find ways to improve your own classroom with whatever changes you feel are necessary or valuable. Once you have that down, you can begin showing others how what you are doing is working—as opposed to simply telling them what is not. Leadership starts with actions, not words (or titles, for that matter).

Take my school site, for example. I haven’t convinced everyone at my site to examine the way they assess their students (to look at this as a teacher-centered issue rather than a student-centered issue), nor have I convinced them all to adopt my strategies. But I have convinced a few to deviate from what they were comfortable with. The conversation has begun at my school site (and on this website as well). I’m not sure how long or how much effort it will take for us to completely reform the way we assess our students, but I, for one, am willing to wait it out. Because, as Barack Obama taught me: Change is hard and incremental…but totally worth it.

So yeah, I’ll say it again:

Thanks, Obama.

Really, I mean that! Sorry if it sounded sarcastic…


Do you agree or disagree with any of my posts on assessment reform? Just thankful that the 5-part series is over? Share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below!

The Educoaster

The Educoaster

Two Thousand and Late-Teen

Two Thousand and Late-Teen