I have two children, one in second grade and one in Kindergarten in our local public elementary school.
Last summer I attended a meeting to which parents had been invited in order to create a profile for the next principal of the school. I turned to a group of teachers who had come to represent the faculty and said, "I want my children to be taught to be more than just good test takers. I want them to have those skills identified in Tony Wagner's The Global Achievement Gap -- the "21st-Century Skills. I'd like the next principal to be able to speak intelligently about this."
The teachers' heads all turned in my direction at once; they weren't expecting anyone in the parent section of the audience to come out with such a gem of "eduspeak" as I just had. I noticed that one older teacher rolled his eyes at my comment. Not being a fan of non-verbal communication, I asked him if he could put his response to my comment in words. "The tests are not going to go away," he said.
And he was right. There is no viable alternative to standardized testing here in Texas, and I've come to the understanding that getting into shouting matches about the value of testing is a waste of time -- at least for now. "I agree," I responded. "I'm not asking you to stop preparing them for it. I'm asking you to do more."
Parent heads nodded around me, and I heard one woman mutter, "Yes sir, that's right," in a way that made me feel like quoting scripture and hugging a Bible to my chest.
For effect, I repeated the charge, "As a parent, and as an educator, I'm asking all of us to do more."
I doubt I "converted" that seasoned 5th grade math teacher, but I know that I reached the parents in that room. And if what I said had an effect on just one of the other teachers sitting in the audience that day (and I suspect it did, based on some nodding I saw from that section of the audience, as well), then I know I may have planted a seed of change in that school.
Now the trick is to imagine my children attending every school I work with, from Estacado High in Lubbock to Fred Florence Middle School in Dallas, and to fight the fight for better educational practice just as passionately wherever I go. To plant that seed continuously, over and over.
As Felicia Donaldson, the young principal of Baxter Junior High School in Everman, Texas put it when addressing her entire staff for the first time, "If this school isn't good enough for your own children, then it's not good enough for ANY children. And we need to change that together."