George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Sometimes, in order to gain perspective on a situation, I imagine myself zooming into outer space and looking down on whatever is going on. From a distance of thousands of feet above whatever craziness is happening I can see more clearly and determine the actions that are available for me to take.

Over the last few years, I find myself frequently zooming out of education world I'm in attempting to gain perspective. From my vantage point somewhere in the stratosphere, here's the image that often comes to mind: I see whirling, spinning educators crashing into each other, spinning off the map, and creating all kinds of unintended destruction. I see these beings spinning into states of physical and emotional breakdown. I see the stress and pressure fracturing communities of folks who should really be allies. I see anxiety, frustration, fear, and impatience. And I see extensive trails leading back towards the origins of this madness, each entity responding to something immediate with distant roots. It's a frightening sight, I know.

The craziness has got to stop. It's not serving anyone.

What's at Stake?

I'll cite data, because the clamoring for data never ceases: We, in public schools, are unable to retain effective teachers or those who show signs of becoming effective teachers. In my district, 50 percent of teachers quit within three years. Principal-turnover is equally high. The great majority of these educators are promising, effective people committed to kids. Teachers quit because of the stress, low pay, long hours, and endless demands for more of everything -- more hours, more this, more that.

It's time to slow down. In our crazy whirling, we are only creating more chaos and mess to clean up.

If we slowed down, we could reflect on what we've been doing and what's been working; we could ask questions, explore root causes, and we could listen to each other. And if we engaged in some of these practices, there's a greater likelihood that we'd uncover authentic solutions, make some significant changes, feel better about our work, and deliver some sustainable results.

A Paradigm Shift Needed

About a year ago, over coffee with Jenn Lutzenberger-Phillips, a dear friend and colleague, I was ranting about the frenetic pace and constant piles of more to do in our school system. "Now our strategic plan has an additional 27 initiatives, 14 of which we have to complete this year," I'd bemoaned (or something to this effect). Jenn, always witty and brilliant, responded with this suggestion: "We need a Slow Schools Movement." Here, in the California Bay Area, there's much talk about "Slow Food" -- an approach to cooking and eating that's seen as more holistic, sustainable for the planet, and healthier for our bodies. There's an appealing community-building element, too; some "Slow Foodies" literally eat slower or eat meals accompanied by hours of reflective conversation, storytelling, laughter, and connection. The Slow Food Movement reflects a shift in how we experience food and eating, farming and nutrition, how we come together with other human beings.

A Slow Schools Movement would offer a parallel paradigm shift -- an approach where we'd intentionally, mindfully work on one project at a time, one goal, or one initiative. We could work hard and focused, with urgency and intentionality, for eight hours a day, and then we could go home to our families, to our out-side-of-work lives, and home to ourselves. And we'd nurture and sustain many communities.

I'd love to lead a team or school or initiative where we could try this approach for a year or two where we'd slow way down, work no more than eight hours a day (a revolutionary concept!) and then we'd explore the impact of having tried this approach. The current systems at school have teachers doing this: burning out by burning both ends of the candle (what telling metaphors). It's not working; just look at the turnover data.

I absolutely believe that we could still accomplish great things, we could transform education, and we could even close the achievement gap if we slowed way down. We'd enjoy our work more and enjoy each other's company. We can start by transforming the way we think about "slowness." Slow is wonderful. Slow is thoughtful. Slow is sustainable and human and transformational. Won't you join Jenn and I in the Slow Schools Movement?

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Lyn's picture

With years of experience behind me, I approach the final chapters of my career more passionate than ever to be an agent of change on behalf of learners. This article states, in understandable language, what I have been trying to say for quite some time now. If the slow-down concept were added to the idea of managing children in a dignified manner, we could truly expect that all children would be able to learn. To me, the slow-down means collecting the best data to describe what we are truly attempting to accomplish. We collect too much data. We twist it to find meaning. Let's unpack those standards until we identify what civilization really needs to know and be able to do in order to sustain the human condition of curiosity and compassionate connection. Let's think about adding the language of dignity to slow. Educate with dignity. Develop the leaders of our future instead of trying to make every person college and career ready. The goal is not post-secondary training to make more money working. Not live to work. Work to live.

Paul Kwiecinski's picture
Paul Kwiecinski
Economics instructor

Reply to Carl Honore:

Was going to mention your book, but you are here yourself! Have you ever spoken at TED? Or, are there other video summaries of your ideas?

Dr. Allen Mendler's picture
Dr. Allen Mendler
Author, speaker, educator

Thanks Lyn for your comment about the importance of "managing children in a dignified manner," "sustain" or hopefully enhance the "human condition of curiosity and compassion" and "educate with dignity." It has been a centerpiece of my life's work to share the importance of along with how-to strategies that led me to co-author the book, "Discipline with Dignity." Dignity in regard to self and others is at the core of deep, meaningful and lasting relationships. Just imagine if only nations, and all peoples viewed each other through that lens.

Lyn's picture

Ah, what an honor to communicate with you! I am a student of Rick's, years ago. The work that you two have done has become a part of me. It is still the missing piece in almost every school. Recently I have worked to bring Ross Greene into our vocabulary and practices. Same thing, different suit. The pace at which we frantically scurry, in State designated Turnaround schools, is testament to the eternal "missed target" of providing a dignified education that teaches people instead of standards. Strategically, we plan and set goals and implement myriad behaviors that do not equate to human connection. We are not measuring the right things and so we do not put our energy into the right interventions. Thanks for recognizing your teachings in my words and for all that you have contributed.

Josh Chittum's picture

I'm a 3rd grade teacher that implemented some SEL pieces into my classroom this year. It takes about 2-3 minutes a day and has made a huge difference, but I feel like it's not enough. I'm ready to join this movement ASAP, but how??

john Wright's picture
john Wright
IB secondary Math and TOK teacher. Asia

I have just read another William Leslie's wonderful comment about slowing down. Just this morning, I had yet three more colleagues listen to me and then say: "sounds nice - but we must do these reports and we have to achieve so many tests within a semester and...". I wonder - where is education going? Who is dictating what we do and how we relate to young people? I am part of the International Baccalaureate problem and although it is changing slowly, I still believe it is a long way from fulfilling its stated mission. I am thankful for this global community of teachers who inspire me to place students' learning and well being at the center of education.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Elena and everyone,
What a powerful idea! I really like it. I think one of the things that you highlight as being important is reflection - taking a moment to stop and consider what went well, and what did not go so well. These moments are so important for future learning.

Janice Fitch's picture

As an older, non-traditional student and now a teacher, I can so totally relate to this post. I am so sick of the extra baloney that we have to do, and all of the extra expectations on top of teaching, that I am also on the brink of switching careers. And I have wanted to do this since I was a toddler! If it weren't for the educational system, this would be my dream job. If it weren't for the lack of district administrative backing of teachers with kids that are out of control (or rather, THEY control the system), this would make more sense. But I spend have my time taking notes and documenting behaviors and about 10% of my time actually teaching. We really need to get back to basics and quit playing around with all the "latest data" for a change.

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