After visiting the second school, I told other teachers about the amazing Utopia I had seen. My glossy-eyed edu-crush was shattered when I met with the principal the next day after school.
"I'm amazed with what you have here. How did you pull it off?"
"Tom, this place got real political when we began to change. Twelve teachers quit. People want autonomy and we were asking people to reject practices that weren't working. One teacher told me that she relished in being the Worksheet Warrior. This place works because the teachers agree upon this model."
"I'm impressed by the way it runs."
"Sometimes I worry that we simply attracted great teachers and then some of them have had their hands tied in collaboration and might be more effective if left alone."
"It seems like it's working, though."
"Maybe so, but change doesn't happen in a vacuum. The social and political and economic forces are hard. You know for a fact that both parties have been involved in handing out administrative jobs, right? And the large textbook companies essentially bribed our Governing Board. I almost lost my job in the first year."
I give him a puzzled look for his short lecture on Gilded Age politics. Yes, I know that corruption is the norm. Some of the best teachers had to pay for a teaching position. Yet, that has little to do with pencils and paper.
"What I'm saying is to avoid the thoughts about reform. If you want to be effective, teach well. Focus on your group of thirty students. If you are using pencils and paper effectively, it will catch on. The change will happen organically."
"But your school created structures for change. Your teachers do research and plan curriculum together and . . . "
"I know, but sometimes I wonder if they would have been better off without so much rigid structure. What's important is that they're talking about instruction instead of arguing about discipline or complaining about parents. Besides, things didn't improve for us until I backed down a bit and gave them the reins."
He pauses for a moment and then tells me, "Look, I hope you saw some good strategies, took a few notes on that fancy iParchment you have there and go back to your classroom with ideas. If you learn anything from this place it's to let your theory drive your instruction and then think of the pencils afterward. It's not the pencils, it's the people."
"What about implementing pencil integration school-wide?"
"Let it happen organically, Tom. You have some great teachers at your school. Let them ask you about pencils and move at their own pace. If it's imposed from the top, they'll resent the change. Didn't some guru in the first century say that change begins with something as small as a mustard seed?"