Reformers have grand ideas for shaking up the system. Blowing it up. Changing everything. Blowing up teacher education. Imposing national standards overnight. Turning schools into teacher-proof institutions. Teaching children the habits of highly effective scholars (age 7).

But, writes David Greene and Bernie Heller, teachers understand that real change is not in the Big Things. Real change happens because of “the process of little things.”


The reform of education is focused on the big changes as opposed to understanding that change is a step by step process. The educrats are playing for the big moment, yet they fil to understand that they can’t pull big moments out of thin air, consequently, their “big moments” exist in vacuums, totally disconnected and disembodied from reality.

From teaching students to be better writers, better students and better thinkers, to mentoring teachers to be better at teaching, to helping players to become better hitters or shooters, it was and is always about starting at step one and moving forward, step by step.

The reformers and the experts want to be able to say they did big things, that they changed everything, the only problem is, you can’t start out “big” – you have to start with the little things, and string them all together.

Are there poor teachers? Of course there are. There were bad teachers when I went to school, there were bad teachers when you went to school. If I were to ask you how many good or great teachers you had all the way through your college career, how many would you be able to list? I’d guess three or four- if you were lucky. Despite that fact, you are still successful today, you still survived. Good and great teachers don’t grow on trees and they are not “developed” or created in special teaching programs or institutes.

Good or great teachers grow and develop through experience and experience takes time and patience. Step by step. Slowly, based on little things strung together. When you marry that time and patience to extraordinary passion, you have a good or great teacher. Perhaps that is why there are so very few of them….

Reformers are impatient. It is good to be impatient. But it is even better to understand the consequences of what you propose and preferably to live with them.

Making education work is NOT as hard and as complicated as it is being made out to be. Education used to be about asking students to reach a little further than they would be comfortable reaching for on their own. It used to be about making sure that when a student received a passing grade, it was clear that grade honestly represented a percentage that symbolized that he/she had completed in that class as opposed to that grade representing a percentage identifying a teacher as competent or incompetent- it still is. It used to be about how graduation symbolized the preparation to move forward as opposed to an empty symbol that “proves” the reform being enacted is valid and viable.

The truth is that long before common core learning ever occurred, there was learning and that learning produced the computer, iTunes, iPhones, innumerable apps, Kindle, space travel, HIV medicines, etc., etc. The truth is we must look to what has always worked- not just for a year or two, or until it could make some corporation or hedge fund a profit- but what has been true about education since Socrates and Aristotle- that education must be respected, and not simply treated as some political exclamation point inserted into some campaign speech, that everyone must see and recognize its value.

We must return to the idea that learning is extremely dependent on the desire or curiosity of the learner to want to go further, to want to know more, to challenge him/herself. We need to stop “looking for the next magic bullet” or the “next big thing”.

I suppose the reformers mean well, (but like they say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”). The fact of the matter is that just because they mean well doesn’t mean what they are doing is right, just as simply because people disagree with what the reformers are doing doesn’t make those who disagree the anti-education or anti-student devil.

As former public school students and an educators with close to four decades of experience, we know the value of education. We know schools matter in students’ lives. We know education is the great equalizer, and we know PUBLIC schools work. They are not perfect- they never were. Nothing is. We also know that many public schools work quite well, and that those labeled as dysfunctional or failing can again. The people criticizing and castigating them must put in the same amount of energy and effort and enthusiasm in looking at all thelittel steps necedssary in fixing them as they spend trying to shut them down.

Stop looking at the next big thing and look at the elephant in the room: The process of little things.