5 Ways to Become an Education Game Changer

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game changer
photo credit: Kay Kim(김기웅) via photopin cc

Game changer may be an overused term in sports and a few other professions, but I don’t think the phrase is used often enough in education. Could this be because we don’t know who education’s game changers are or if they exist at all?

A game changer is a visionary. A game changer sees what others do not see or are unwilling to see. A game changer takes the risks that most people fear.

While we could debate a list of classic game changers, I believe there are a few people who have clearly defined the term. People like Susan B. Anthony, Steve Jobs, and Mahatma Gandhi exemplify what a game changer is. Education needs people like these to truly reform the profession.

If you want to be an education game changer, you must be willing to travel a pockmarked road, and you need a clear plan.

5 ways to become a game changer

1-Stop worrying about losing your job

For tenured teachers, this isn’t much of a problem, although there is a growing movement against tenure. Whether you have tenure or not, if you want to be a game changer, you must stop thinking about losing your job. I’ve never heard of a teacher being fired for doing what’s best for kids. Susan B. Anthony risked her life to vote. The least teachers can do is risk temporary unemployment to change children’s lives.

2-Break free from the norm

When the world hears you saying over and over again that you are going to do what is best for children, your voice becomes remarkably powerful.
Steve Jobs never said, “We have to do what everyone else is doing.” Jobs believed in being first, in creating what others couldn’t see. When people said something couldn’t be done, it was usually because no one else was doing it. Jobs saw what established techies didn’t see, and he created it. When people say, “We can’t do that,” jump to a new fishbowl. Those who aspire to greatness will follow.

3-Start all thoughts with “What if. . .”

Hundreds of years ago when teachers were writing directions and examples on individual student slates, James Pillans wondered, What if we built one large slate board, big enough for all students in the room to see? The blackboard was born and classroom instruction worldwide changed. What if you stopped assigning traditional homework? What if you used mobile devices in class? What if you never grade another activity, project or test? Would you be a game changer? Would your students change?

4-Say “No!”

Teachers constantly tell me that their principal says they have to give weekly tests or they have to assign nightly homework or they have to log a grade into an online grade book. How should this be handled, they ask. Simple. Say No! Tell education stakeholders that you intend to do what is in the best interest of every student in your classroom. If they push back, stand your ground. Be persistent and be loud. When the world hears you saying over and over again that you are going to do what is best for children, your voice becomes remarkably powerful. You become a game changer.

5-Never stop fighting

It’s possible that you won’t live to see victory. Susan B. Anthony died decades before women won the right to vote. Without her, though, woman might still be relegated to ankle-length dresses and a life in the kitchen. Someone recently said that a no grades classroom is unrealistic; when I brought up the suffragettes, he said, “look how long that took.” Game changers never think about winning the battle; they fight until it’s won or until they die, knowing someone else will carry the torch when they’re gone.

I ended a recent blog post this way:

Champions of the no-grades classroom do exist. Like the suffragettes, they are part of many grassroots movements around the world. . . . These champions stand tall against the oppression of traditional methods and the empty cry of accountability and standardization, and they trumpet the benefits of throwing out traditional grades. . . they will change the world.

The true champions of the student-centered no-grades classroom–people willing to say No to colleagues, administrators, and parents who can’t see beyond standardization and labels–are education’s game changers.

Consider this plan. Look in a mirror and ask the person you see this question: Are you simply playing the game, or are you willing to change it?

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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