Moving Education Forward When We Can’t See Past the Past

Tim Ihms Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Uncategorized

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When I listen to the required mandatory podcasts so I can write this blog, I usually, but not always, am counting the minutes until the podcast ends. That wasn’t the case with this last one with Ted Dintersmith. It was good! He hit a homer for me when he talked about how change has to be a grassroots effort. He said that meaningful change has to come from the bottom up rather than the traditional top-down approach applied in 99% of the schools in America: public, private, and charter.

You know what I mean. The school board says all teachers will teach using a prescribed method and all the students will learn with this method. Training is a one-time introduction if even that and off you go, expected to train and educate because a school board and district personnel said this one method and its supporting materials will work for most everyone.

Mr. Dintersmith explained in his observations of schools across the country how meaningful change does not happen in established organizations. Established organizations spend their time supporting what they already do.

Meaningful change comes from new organizations. These new organizations are not impeded by the old values of the institution. The idea of “ this is always how we have done it” is not a part of the general discussion in new schools.

For the past three years, I have gone to my administrators to present a model of instruction that provides individualized instruction and goals each day for the students. While the district has considered the proposal each year, for a variety of reasons, the proposal has not been put into action.

I don’t blame the district for not implementing my proposal. There is a bigger picture of budget, class space, school boards and a million other considerations before a “yes” can be provided. Disappointed but I understand somewhat the process of approval.

My proposal was supported by test scores from a class at my school I had used inclusion with my special education students as well as the nontraditional individualized instruction.

I had experimented with this class using the approach with my principal’s and district administrator’s approval. The class traditionally had students below expectations or far below expectations when they entered the school year and when they completed it. During the experimental year, the class had all come at the beginning of the year at below or far below grade level expectations except for two of the students.

By the time the class completed their spring testing, all but three students tested at or above expectations. of the three students not meeting expectations, two had come in mid-year to the class. The approached worked.

Whether I am ever provided the opportunity to begin a program outside the norm, we’ll see. But I expect it will happen outside the established organization.

As much as I would like to use the approach in a public setting, I will probably have to begin another private school and begin another grassroots effort. I agree with Mr. Dintersmith, meaningful change is difficult for schools.

Thank you to Donnie for allowing me to write this blog. Thank you to the three to five of you who read my thoughts each month.  I hope your summer is restful.


I am an educator with 41 years of experience. An experience that includes teaching regular education kindergarten through twelfth grades; special education K-12 with the labels of mentally handicapped, learning disabilities, behavior disorder and multi-category; public and private schools; three states; started three private schools; board member at four schools; principal for eighteen years and custodian off and on throughout. I earned a Bachelor degree from ASU in Special Education and a Masters Degree from UNC in Learning Disabilities and Emotional Disturbed. Teaching certificates are in regular education k-8; principal; special education- learning disabilities, mentally handicapped, emotionally disturbed.

Comments 2

  1. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    It can be frustrating trying to create change when, like you say, the system works to preserve itself. Public education has to open up avenues for teacher leadership and dynamic change if it hopes to compete. I could not agree more! Keep looking to find a place where grassroots leadership is valued! Those places can be found in all types of settings— it’s all about the outlook of the administration and leadership. Also continue developing your own capacity to advocate for your ideas. Check out the NEA /CTQ/ NBPTS partnership Teacher Leadership Competencies.

  2. Beth Maloney

    I love studying the idea of change and how change can work in systems. I hope you continue to advocate for the needed change you see for your students. Systems thinking and organizational change theories acknowledge that change can happen over time, given the right circumstances. You might have found the right time and can create the right circumstances to invoke needed change.

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