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The Danger of Educational Reform Movements

I work in a weird field, secondary education, where even the most dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrats and stuck-in-the-mud decisionmakers routinely refer to themselves as "reformers." I don't know if this phenomenon exists in any other field.

In the teaching field, educational reform movements are constantly being spearheaded by testing company lobbyists, billionaire philanthropists, for-profit testing and textbook companies, and boards of education that could not possibly do more to turn teachers into hapless, replicable bureaucrats routinely and with a straight face present their position as: "school reformer."

Among the plethora of educational reform movements motivated purely by self-interest exist real activists, however marginalized they often feel. In education, in general, an activist or "actual" reformer tends to see the school in pretty much the opposite way as do today's self-proclaimed "reformers." Grauer teachers, for instance, see their professional lives as not quite separate or apart from their private lives—our teachers are going through life with their students rather than treating them as objects of management.

Grauer Engineering Design students creating a sailable boat using engineering principles for their final project on June 5, 2018
Grauer Engineering Design students creating a sailable boat using engineering principles for their final project - June 5, 2018

Proudly Supporting Teacher Leadership Roles

No two Grauer jobs are at all alike or even comparable, much less replicable. Our support for teacher leadership roles helps our educators feel more like entrepreneurs than like bureaucrats. This is because they see the school as an ecosystem where programs are created and discarded based upon the student needs and passions, rather than as administrative slots that get filled because the schedulers schedule them year after year or because someone thinks colleges are looking for them.

Supporting teacher leadership roles helps educators be more collaborative in decision making. For instance, at The Grauer School, we have programming teams, an entrepreneurial proposal process, and a teacher-run professional development team. Every teacher job evolves in a completely unique way and, ultimately, teachers with a following can "build their own burger." It's not about standards and credits, it's about connections.

In typical schools today, that would not work at all because the "reformers" would demand to measure everyone's work against "comps"—then they could squeeze out metrics used for "reform." Like life itself, Grauer could never be that predictable. For this reason, not everyone makes it at Grauer, and Grauer is definitely not for everyone! (But it's for them!)

Educators in the United States have never enjoyed truly professional status as they did in the days of the "maestros" and wise men. At The Grauer School, on the other hand, I believe the teachers are the most esteemed people in our community, treated with extraordinary regard by almost all stakeholders.

Grauer seniors Colin, Dennis, Amanda, and Reese showing their culinary talents during their Cooking Class final on June 5, 2018
Grauer seniors Colin, Dennis, Amanda, and Reese showing their culinary talents during their Cooking Class final - June 5, 2018

Educational Leadership by Example

I have always believed in educational leadership by example. To demonstrate this, I willingly served in the role of the head of the school at The Grauer School primarily for a profound reason: nobody else was doing it. (And it needed doing.) From the sound of that, I am no reformer. All the same, my mission is to change education into something more compassionate, more liberating, more connected, more expeditionary, more entrepreneurial, and more supportive. In doing all this, I suppose "I got kicked upstairs." For almost all those years, when asked all over the world what my job is, I have replied with this answer: "I am a teacher." I know, I'm just bragging.

Also, during those decades facilitating educational leadership by example, I have meticulously attempted, whenever possible, to define a leader as: "someone who is willing to help" – just in case someone refers to me as a leader. Leadership at Grauer does not sit in an office, it resides in relationships. The way The Grauer School is organized, for it to work as intended, every type of player is equally needed: the teacher is teaching, the counselor is counselling, the leader is helping, the custodian is fixing stuff.

None of these roles are significant in an absence of all the others, since they are all co-creating their roles in concert with a larger organizational purpose and credo. This means teachers, administrators, and even support staff members have equal opportunities to demonstrate educational leadership by example with each moment of every school day. All of these people could be filling any of these roles at any time. None of these roles would be conceivable by any of the above "reformers," and some would be an affront. Are we reformers? Hmmm...

Leadership at The Grauer School in Encinitas

What's more, the structure of leadership at The Grauer School in Encinitas makes it so that you could take any of these people and have them do their exact role in another school and you could not rely upon it to work—by way of illustration, I like Fords. They're no frills and dependable. But if I wanted to improve my car and installed a Rolls Royce carburetor, what do you think would happen? The teachers and volunteers who "fit," adapt to our ecosystem and so our students can experience the real passion and joy of an integrated team.

What's furthermore, you don't treat a carburetor with more respect than a battery—you absolutely need both. You could set up another metaphor, maybe better than the car metaphor, using any living thing. Our school is alive! There is nothing to reform in a living system. It does have its cycles, though. And now we are completing another year.

Dr. Grauer writing at the Grand Canyon on his rafting trip in May 2018
Dr. Grauer writing at the Grand Canyon on his rafting trip - May 2018

Thanks to the students, parents, community, and a million times over, to the leadership team at The Grauer School in Encinitas, 2017-2018 has been a beautiful school year with you, a year of infinite student and teacher achievements and beautiful student-teacher connections. Among all the joys and journeys I have experienced on and off campus this year, even rafting the Grand Canyon, being a teacher on our faculty is the greatest of them all, hands down.

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