Education leader challenges teachers to be different

Educators need to be the vehicle of change.

That was the message to Princeton School District teachers during an in-service day Jan. 16 from Raymond McNulty, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education.

McNulty, a renowned leader in education reform, was on hand at Princeton High School’s Performing Arts Center to talk about the future — or more specifically, the role teachers will play in the future education of our children.

“The future isn’t a place we’re going, but a place we’re creating,” McNulty said.

The problem with many school districts, however, is that the new “future” isn’t being created.

“The world is changing faster than we are, and that’s a critical problem,” he said.

The same can be said for education. McNulty argues that too much focus is being put on teaching students to excel on tests so that they meet state standards. That can result in students leaving school good at taking tests, but lacking in other key areas.

“The primary aim of education is not to enable students to do well in school,” McNulty argued. “The primary aim of education is to help students do well in the lives they lead outside of our schools.”

McNulty noted that in school students are given a book. They study the information in the book. They are then tested on the information in the book.

“I’m not saying that’s bad, but that’s our system,” he said. “Because we have limited resources, we continue to do what we have always done.”

“We’re getting real good at things that don’t really matter anymore,” McNulty said.

Almost everybody wants schools to be better, but most people don’t want them to be different, he said.

McNulty dared the Princeton faculty members to be different. The school district administrators encouraged the teachers to grasp McNulty’s message and think out of the box so Princeton can be an innovator in making education different.

McNulty encouraged teachers to be different first, and then work within the parameter of their changes to then be better.

“It’s like the transition from the horse to the automobile. It wasn’t always a smooth transition,” McNulty said.

They key to changes in education is not following a model that mirrors what schools have always done.

“We need to play to a student’s strengths while keeping our high standards,” McNulty said.

Somebody has to be first in trying new things. McNulty encouraged Princeton faculty members to be those innovators.

“First our practices must change, and if we get positive results, it then becomes policy,” McNulty said. “Policy never changes first.”

Broaden your skills, change the way you work, McNulty said.

McNulty also said educators need to move away from a world of cooperation and move into a world of collaboration.

Cooperation, he explained, is where “you do this, and I’ll do that.”

Collaboration, on the other hand, is a process of shared actions or ideas focusing on the result, he said.

“Teachers need to be the agents of change,” McNulty said.

McNulty also said a way to close the achievement gap in education is for teachers to embrace their students.

“People learn from people they love,” McNulty said. “We need to learn to get closer to the kids.”

Today’s teachers need to be thoughtful people who are eager to take in and use new information, McNulty said.

“Take risks!” he said.

“Be extraordinary, not ordinary!”

Superintendent Richard Lahn noted that schools grow and get better or stagnate and get worse.

“What have you learned today that you can use tomorrow?” Lahn asked.

“I challenge you to use it.”