Enduring the Educational Pendulum: Education Week guest article

After twenty-four years in the classroom, teaching gets tougher for me with every sweeping swing of the educational pendulum. Like clockwork, a “new” strategy or solution is inevitably espoused, everyone eagerly (or forcibly) jumps on the bandwagon, and the poor baby is again thrown out with the bathwater.

Occasionally, these shifts are truly progressive and positive. However, far too many are merely fads or knee-jerk reactions based on furor or fear, with the students paying the price for each misguided reversal, recommendation, or ruling.

These extreme changes also stigmatize those teachers who have a penchant for thinking critically, for proceeding with caution, for preserving balance, and for speaking their minds. But why isn’t the careful consideration of reason, relevance, and measure valued in teachers as much as we say we desire these qualities in our students?

Be it lockers or lockdowns, construction paper or constructivism, social promotion or social media, dropping out or opting out, peer pressure or peer mediation, blended families or blended learning, sex ed or sexting, multiple choice or multiple intelligences, zero tolerance or zero period, main ideas or mainstreaming, teaching the textbook or teaching to the test, dumbing down or top-down management, homework or homeschooling, curricular mandates or mandated reporters, skill sets or mindsets, dittos or data… teachers have experimented a lot and have had to endured a lot—and not always by choice.

Weigh the merits of these ideals and actualities for yourself, and add others you either loathe or love. Yet the point here is not to incite an educational debate about what specifically warrants change. It is instead to advocate for a reliable, rational, and proportional approach to education that allows for innovation, inspiration, interaction, and autonomy, while still holding teachers and students accountable– if not for every expectation and outcome, then at least for their individual integrity, involvement, and effort.

I personally withstand the wild winds of change by closing my classroom door and providing my students with a consistent, coordinated combination of what my insight and experience assure me all children need most. I also leave open a window of possibility, welcoming in the cool breezes of interesting ideas that reinvigorate and refine my teaching, as long as those additions and alterations directly benefit my students.


In the Comments section below, please add the education ideas and reforms that have either pleased you or vexed you. Also share how you endure the sweeping swings of the educational pendulum.

BAM Radio 3-23-17

Listen to this short (only eight minutes!) Q&A facilitated by Larry Ferlazzo from Education Week. Two other educators and I discuss how we deal with the toughest parts of teaching: BAM Radio 3/23/17.

Also, read the original article in Education Week’s Classroom Q & A with Larry Ferlazzo (May 20, 2017).

This article is also part of the professional development course from Erickson.edu.

Empowered Parents #1 seller

For more on attending to the whole child and how teachers and parents can be allies in education, read the latest book by Robert Ward, Talented Teachers, Empowered Parents, Successful Students.

Read more about Robert’s books for educators and parents here.

10 thoughts on “Enduring the Educational Pendulum: Education Week guest article

  1. Robert, I think you just explained, succinctly I might add, why our novice teachers are leaving. I, too, have been in the profession 24 years. I, too, have seen changes and like you, have shook my head in disbelief. But, those changes (“back in the day”) seemed to come gradually. Now, it is a new “initiative” every year and with that comes district demands, administrative requests and teacher exhaustion. As an Instructional Coach, I have sat with our new teachers, listening and offering gentle comments. Truthfully, I usually just hold the box of kleenex. We have to continue doing what we know to be right by kids and not necessarily what the “experts” tell us (who seldom have any educational background at all), but what we know in our gut to be honest and true. Our students deserve it and our novice teachers deserve it, too.


  2. Thank you, Peg. Your point about how the current educational changes seem to come more swiftly and sweepingly than ever speaks to the cumulative effect these shifts have on students, new teachers, and especially us veterans. It sure helps to have a strong PLN that can provide some balance and perspective amidst the chaos.


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