What Solutions Are You Advocating?

I looked back at some of my old blog posts from two or three years ago and I was struck by the sense that I am no longer focussed on advocacy. Or at least that’s how it first appeared. I looked at posts railing against homework, standardized tests, and VAM scores. A few of the posts seemed angry. Many of the posts seemed whiny. But very few of the posts actually advocated viable alternatives.

At some point, though, I got tired of complaining. I started to see advocacy as something positive. True, we can rail against injustice (and we should) but I’d rather advocate for real solutions. So, I’m not a fan of homework. So, what’s a solution? Perhaps we could make homework optional. It could be an extracurricular activity that parents opt into if they want it. So, standardized tests suck. Why don’t we advocate for portfolios, standards-based grading and project-based learning? Yes, VAM scores are awful. Why don’t we push teacher leadership and programs like National Board Certification as a solution for teacher professionalism? So lectures are boring. Why don’t we talk about using shorter lectures inspired by theater and packed with inspiration? Why don’t we talk about how we can do direct instruction in a way that is more personalized?


Better Yet, Make Something

Lately, though, I’ve been more intrigued by a third option. Instead of just advocating for a solution, go out and make it happen. I love the fact that the people of Kent Innovation High have created (and continue to improve) an amazing, project-based public high school. And I love the way Chris Lehmann has not only collaboratively designed a great model of PBL, inquiry and social justice at SLA but also empowered the teachers he leads to help share what works.

I love the fact that, faced with a lack of diversity in the connected educator circle, educators like Jose Vilson, Melinda Anderson and Rafranz Davis created an entire #educolor movement. I love the fact that instead of just talking about global collaboration, Pernille Ripp created the Global Read Aloud, connecting thousands of students to create novels around the world. I love the fact that AJ Juliani saw a need for design thinking in his district and helped lead the design of the xLab at their high school. And I love the fact that Brad Wilson had such a passion for engaging reluctant writers that he developed an app to meet the need.

Over the last year and a half, I been intentionally responding to every complaint I make about education with the following questions:

What have I made that helps solve this problem? 


If not . . . 


Who do I know that is solving this problem? How can I promote that solution? 


I don’t always have the answers and I don’t have the time or the knowledge or the capacity to create solutions. However, the maker mindset is ultimately what led me to help co-found Write About when I wanted to improve digital writing. It’s why I co-wrote a novel when my kids wanted a great book. It’s why I’m slowly working behind the scenes on a potential solution to the lack of differentiated professional development.


Our Students Need Makers

I am convinced that teachers are the ones who know what is best for students. Yes, parents, too. Yes, students as well. I get it. But in terms of stakeholders, teachers are the professionals who often have the best ideas for what works in education. When they are the ones who develop platforms or find solutions or build movements, it is empowering for their students.

Moreover, when teachers are makers (whether they are solving problems in education or writing a novel or painting a picture or building furniture for fun) they remember what it is like to create things. They can empathize with the successes and the frustrations of students. They can model and talk about the growth mindset. They can remember how hard it is to do things that require you to learn and entirely new skill.

Ultimately, when teachers are makers, they are more likely to create the maker spaces that kids need — not from a theoretical idea but from a very real, everyday knowledge of what it means to hone a craft. That’s a pretty cool gift to give to a class.

So, go make something. Start a movement. Build a platform. Craft a product. Design a system. Solve a complex problem. Invent. Create. Ask. Build. Learn.

Be a maker.


John Spencer

John Spencer

Phoenix, Arizona

In my sophomore year of college, I began tutoring a fifth-grader in a Title One, inner city Phoenix school. What began as a weekly endeavor of teaching fractions and editing essays grew into an awareness of the power of education to transform lives. My involvement in a non-profit propelled a passion for learning as an act of empowerment.

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