By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
What members had to say:
Live Oak Teachers Association
“Ten years ago we started the Rural Issues Conference and had a turnout of 100 members. Today there are 500 members attending from rural areas, along with the NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and CTA President David A. Sanchez. This tells me that rural educators are being listened to. In one decade, the conference has grown more successful than I ever dreamed possible.”
(Larry Carlin was part of the initial planning team responsible for the creation of the annual
Rural Issues Conference.)
Keppel Union Teachers Association
“I just came from the strand on stress. All of our members are stressed, because our district wants financial concessions and we are in the eighth year of Program Improvement. I’m stressed because I’m on the negotiating committee. It was good to focus on stress and ways of alleviating the stress in your life. You have to deal with the underlying problem of stress before dealing with other issues. This workshop was very helpful and supportive.”
Tulare City Teachers Association
“I was truly impressed hearing about different perspectives of health care reform from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and how NEA is helping to influence this. I just went to a session on testing data and realized that my district is ahead of other districts in using data to drive instruction. I felt encouraged.”
Morongo Teachers Association
“I enjoyed an update on legislative issues. And I’ve learned from attending this conference that we are not the only district with issues and problems. These are difficult economic times, and it’s a mess everywhere. It’s good for people to come together at a conference like this. Misery loves company.”
Imperial County Office of Education Teachers Association
“I attended the workshop ‘Communicating with Your Members in a Digital World,’ and learned about ways that technology can inform members about CTA and galvanize them. It was great hearing about ways to invite other teachers to chapter meetings and ways of getting them involved in what’s happening.”
Corning Elementary Faculty Association
“After getting educated about Race to the Top, I learned about retirement. The workshop cleared up a lot of the questions I had about retirement, which I really appreciated.”
Rural Issues speaker:
Transform school culture by ending division
There’s a lot of talk about transforming schools these days. But most of the emphasis is on structural changes, such as implementing block scheduling, professional learning communities, intervention classes, strict dress codes, and new programs that promise instant results. Pressure to raise test scores has prompted administrators to believe that these things will fix students or schools that are broken.
In reality, these changes can be like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic — unless cultural change also occurs. This was the message from Dr. Anthony Muhammad, guest speaker at this year’s Rural Issues Conference in Las Vegas.
“Structural change that is not supported by cultural change will eventually be overwhelmed by the culture, for it is in the culture that any organization finds meaning and stability,” said Muhammad, author of Transforming School Culture: How to End Staff Division.
Schools tend to have two types of culture — healthy and toxic — that make up the values and persona of a school, he told attendees. In healthy cultures, teachers have an unwavering belief in the ability of all students to achieve success, and pass on that belief in both overt and covert ways and via school policy. In toxic cultures, educators believe student success is based upon students’ level of prior knowledge and willingness to comply with the demands of the school, and policies are adopted that support the belief in the “impossibility” of universal achievement.
Educators may be unwitting barriers to student achievement, and fall into four categories: “Believers,” who are intrinsically motivated, flexible with students and willing to confront negative talk and attitudes toward children; “Tweeners,” who tend to be new teachers full of idealism; “Survivors,” who are overwhelmed and depressed; and “Fundamentalists,” who do not believe all children can learn, and believe that school reform is a waste of time and the status quo should be maintained, even if it is failing.
One extreme positive or negative experience can sway a Tweener into becoming a Believer who will motivate students — or a Survivor or a Fundamentalist, who may burn out or leave the profession, he said.
“We need to work together — teachers, administrators, school board members, and state and federal leaders — and stop the blame game,” said Muhammad, who has been both a teacher and a principal. “School leaders and Believers have to become more active and vocal to meet this challenge head on.”