When Teachers Aren't Invited

During my prep period today, I ran across a discussion between a few people on Twitter. It revolved around a Harvard Gazette article where five experts engaged in a discussion regarding how to  "jump-start effective learning."

I read the experts and found myself nodding with a few of their ideas. However, I was bothered that the discussion regarding the future of education failed to include a single K-12 public school teacher. Somehow we are not a part of the conversation.


Imagine a conversation about the future of health care that never included a single doctor. Think about a dialogue on the future of art without a single artist. Maybe a discussion on the future of business with only economics professors and not a single person from a corporation. I wouldn't expect to see a visionary conversation about the future of architecture without including any real architects.

Jason Glass pointed out that the panel wasn't meant as a slight to teachers. It was simply a group of experts affiliated with Harvard. I don't believe it was an intentional slight. It rarely is. Instead, it's an oversight, a quiet silence of the teacher's perspective. The experts are out there, above us, dreaming up reform. We are simply the practitioners.

The problem is this: those who create policies are much more likely to listen to a Harvard panel packed with experts than they are to listen to the teachers who often have great ideas on re-imagining schools. When our perspectives aren't included in the various panel discussions, policy makers miss out on a necessary reform perspective.
John Spencer

Professor. Maker. Speaker.
I want to see schools unleash the creative potential in all teachers to transform classrooms into bastions of creativity and wonder. Read more →
Email me at john@educationrethink.com for speaking inquiries on design thinking and creativity.


  1. Well, that does not mean that the 5 experts were any more, or any less expert. We would have to look at their credentials to see their "fit".

    Now as for teachers not being invited, well, it is Twitter. An open public medium. You join at your own efforts and risk...
    As for the newspaper article, well, I have not read it. So I cannot comment.
    But, I can say it is probably fair.

    Often teachers do not care or want members of the general public "messing with affairs we are not professionals regarding". I have seen this on a number of teachers forums, and was even banned from one, blacklisted, for disagreeing with the teacher running it. He was too used to being "at the front of the classroom, and commanding his private audience"... People like me were not wanted or needed. HAH! GOOD! Well, maybe not so good!

    Now, we have you, a (hopefully more reasonable) teacher complaining about things going the other way!

    You see, teachers, this is gonna kill you, but we the public (I am 57, not a kid of no consequence .... Even though I communicate with a student who makes mores sense than some teachers!) are the taxpayers that fund you. We outnumber you. We vote and talk to politicians and policy makers. Believe me, if there is ANYONE you want to have open lines of communication with, teachers... It is US the General Public ...

    We can be your greatest ally... Believe me, you need us more than we need you. After all, many of us have no kids in school. So you cannot hold our children hostage while you go on strike... But, together... What could we not accomplish?

    And, Of Course, Teachers, do not forget the other 2 legs: The kids, and their parents. Do involve them. And "get" them to involve you. So we have this funny piece of furniture. Teachers, KIDS, Parents, The Public, The Administration (Forgive my swear word!), and the Politicians. A 6 legged beast! And we need all 6 legs, or the beast cannot run. And the KIDS? That is what the beast is all about.

    But I can suggest a couple of things: Write a message to the newspaper. And make contacts on Twitter. You nevvver know what might become of it! It could benefit you, and/or your students!

    Remember, Freedom of the Press, means they can comment on social issues, including Teaching. If you agree, compliment them. If you disagree, and have good reasons, it is your public duty to contact them. You can even do both at the same time....
    eg: "I agree with your excellent points A,B,C... But as a teacher of XX years experience, I wonder if you considered D,E,F, in your comments Z,X,Y? Thank you for your time and attention. You may contact me at..."

    Do not laugh. I did this once, and got a guest column, and a free paper for 10 months out of it. But a big reward, but I think I was 28 at the time... so it mattered back then. Who knows what could result for you?

    Take care.

    1. You know who else pays taxes, who else has kids, and who else has to deal with the labribthyne bureaucracy of school systems as "clients" and not just employees? Teachers.

    2. I agree that teachers have these avenues and the truth is that we use them. We also use the freedom of assembly to protest. We use social media. We blog. However, real teachers are almost never invited to the events at Harvard. Real teachers are almost never asked their opinion. We have to force it through. That's my point. It isn't the complacency of teachers. It is the delibate censorship of those in power.

  2. Some good and realistic observations, including your comment about the expendability of teachers. It may be true, but it's problematic to treat one of the most vital labor pools in the country this way.

  3. Mr. Spencer, I am currently doing my teaching internship in the Seattle area and we are reading your book, A Sustainable Start: A Realistic Look At the First Year of Teaching, and you have really opened my eyes to some pressing issues as a future educator. I really appreciate how honest you are with your ideas and began following your blog. This post makes me wonder about the future of education and how educators should have the MOST say in what is being transformed. Who knows the children better? It has been very informative to follow what you have to say. Thank you! newtoteach.wordpress.com

    1. Very cool! Thanks for reading my book. I hope you find it helpful and maybe a little different perspective than some of the other books aimed at new teachers. Feel free to contact me any time.

  4. John. I love your thinking. What I believe is that you want to be into policy. AND you want to teach children. I am really not sure you can do both. If you can, let me know how. I would follow. You chose the children. I commend you...........

    The folks on that panel probably spent more time in classrooms than you have spent on Earth, even if their teaching isn't "real" now.

    You can do this kind of advocacy for teachers AND you can educate tomorrow's educators OR you can educate tomorrow's adults. You chose the latter. Why must you go after the former when they are trying to be a voice for people who cannot take their eyes off of children to go to Harvard and do the same? Logistics is always problematic. You don't know that the experts haven't formed their opinions after countless hours with people like you.

    If your advocates leave Harvard, NYU and Washington, Ts in the classroom will have to come up with another plan to have a voice.

    The glass CAN be half full if solving the problem is the goal.


  5. I was reading this post and made a connection to what is going on in my district. I sit on a technology committee and we talk about the technology and the future of for our district. The director leads this committee. The last meeting we talked about devices for our planned 1:1 plan across the district. We talk about if those devices can be used with SBAC. We talk about what 1:1 is going to look like in our district. We talk about who is going on a trip to Apple to talk to them about problem based learning. After we talk about these things, he then tells us that most of these things if not all have been decided or are being decided about by the higher ups in the district. It was mentioned that all the higher ups will be going to Apple and maybe someone from the committee. I read your blog post and thought...why isn't teachers part of the conversation during these "higher" conversations? Why isn't a teacher that is verse in technology and the use of it a representative in the chats with the true decision makers? I read this post and thought of my situation. So the decision is made by those who have little experience in the use of tech in the classroom rather than the ones who are doing it now.


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