Education Consultants Don’t Have Answers

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Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/4S8uZe
Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/4S8uZe

As an education consultant, I’m hired to help teachers meet many outcomes, most of them related to curriculum design, instructional practices, or making meaningful use of assessments and the data they produce.

Contrary to what many believe, this isn’t my most important job.

Idealists suggest that consultants are experts and change agents. Skeptics often believe we’re hired to facilitate conversations and decisions that others aren’t comfortable or perhaps, even capable of leading. I guess I can appreciate all of these perceptions, but they don’t really speak to what I do or why I do it. I help people work together to seek their own solutions. Education consultants don’t have answers. The best ones don’t pretend to, either.

At the end of the day, I believe that I have one job: leaving the system and the people I serve within it stronger, regardless of what the program outcomes are.

If I leave the system with an aligned curricula that leaves teachers or learners feeling disengaged and unheard, I haven’t done my job.

If I leave the system with new instructional practices that leave teachers feeling like they are jumping through hoops rather facilitating learning, I haven’t done my job.

If I leave the system with new ideas and increased knowledge of best practices that they are unable to sustain on their own, I haven’t done my job.

If I leave the system with my opinions, ideals, preferred practices, and promises without regard for the diverse (and perhaps, even opposing) interests and capacities of those within the system, I haven’t done my job.

Most important

If I leave the system having created division among staff members or especially, between staff and administration–even if it’s done in the name of all that I feel is good and just–I haven’t done my job.

If I leave the system unable to define what I learned from others, where I stumbled or even fell, and how my own thinking and work is changing as a result, I haven’t done my job.

As my new year begins in New York State, I’m keeping all of these things in mind in an effort to remember that education consultants like me really have just one job: leaving systems stronger.

It doesn’t matter who I agree or disagree with, what I think I know, or what I want to do.

I need to access the voices of those that I serve–especially student voices.

I need to draw fewer conclusions and instead, help teachers formulate their own hunches and test theories. I need to use evidence gathered from inside the system to guide my recommendations.

I need to remember that I’m hired to help people resolve dilemmas, make informed choices, and study their impact. I’m not hired to impose my ideals on others or pretend that I have answers. This sounds easy, but when you’re the one at the front of the room and people are looking to you for answers and the stakes are high, it’s very, very hard to remember.

Education consultants like me don’t have answers.

Good ones know how to help the people they serve find and then test their own, though.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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