It seems that in education we tend to jump on bandwagons a lot. Hopping on the bandwagon is a very old phrase, and can refer to when a trend garners enough attention, and therefore attracts followers, who sort of hop on that trend, and make it their own. It is easier to jump on a safe and full bandwagon, playing a tune, than start up a band of your own, with a tune of your own. Furthermore, the phrase, hopping on the bandwagon, may have originated with legendary circus master and crowd-pleaser P. T. Barnum, who it was said, drummed up crowd interest, and a following, with a wagon carrying a circus band. In education, bandwagon hopping is much more confusing and uncertain, for leaders and all the players, because there are so many tunes playing, or for many, the bandwagon hasn’t traveled close enough to be heard, yet.
Sometimes the education bandwagons have bands playing the same tune, but in different ways—both positively and negatively—it’s very perplexing. For instance, examples of bandwagons, today, are Common Core—wonderful or horrible; banning smartphones in class—or smartphones for all students; using nothing but iPads—or Chromebooks are better, less expensive and possibly do more; or students need only touch screens, and maybe digital pens—or keyboarding still beats writing—and everyone knows handwriting is absolutely necessary—or unnecessary. While all seem to have reasons to follow, and jump on, some bandwagon bands are complete wastes of time, but we continue to hop on them, too, as much for safety in numbers, and also because it is very difficult to take a stand, and lead, without an obvious groundswell of approval. Because of this, the best ideas can go unsaid, untried, and very little changes.
Hopping on bandwagons in education, or in anything, for that matter, usually requires far less thinking, and following popular trends seems to make things easier. Placing a leader under a leadership spotlight, suggesting change, with a new, unheard of direction, is difficult, and takes great courage. The standing alone, at first, is never easy or comfortable, but it can be the most important thing education leaders, at all levels, can do. Hopping off an education bandwagon is a giant leap, but can be rewarding.
Wouldn’t it be better to lead and strike up your own band, though? Well, some would argue that doing that is not allowed, or it’s not the way we do things, or most often, that it takes knowing where to begin, with what’s needed, and how to plan and implement that great idea. While it’s true, that no one can know all well enough, there are certainly ways to get the help that is needed. Not to put forth a great education idea, or initiate change to move from where you are to where you need to be leaves it all up to the bandwagon hoppers, and oh, what a shame if that happens. All you need to do, as education leader, is wonder why things remain the same to know what you have to do. Offer some new music and build a band!
Recently, during a review of a very slick education video, I was disappointed as I looked beyond the camera work, words of brilliant school leaders, educators, and wide-eye students, who were all saying the right words for this century, but in every video scene using the tools and solutions of the last century. They hadn’t gotten past sticky notes hanging on the walls; worksheets on student desks, dry erase boards, or discovered that while pencils are nice, educators and students needed more, today. The video was an outdated bandwagon, and even though the band had the right sheet music, it didn’t have the instruments to really play it. All the players, in this supposed school and classroom success model, had glimpses of great ideas, but didn’t know how to go from the parts they knew to really where they had to be. It was obvious that they just didn’t know. All bandwagons are not bad; it’s not easy to pick the right fit, and too easy to get misled. Help may be required.
I’m certain that all involved in that education video thought, and really believed, what was depicted was great. And it may have been great in 1990, but not today. They meant the right thing, with this video, but they weren’t doing the right thing, and believe me they are not alone—out there in the real education world. Now, there isn’t an excuse for that, or perpetuating it. Today, you need to look outside the comfortable, outside the district, school, or class, and look beyond the noise of the bandwagons. If sticky notes, pencils and worksheets are daily practice reality, then someone has to stand up and shout an alarm.
Get thinking. Really look at where you are. Ask advice! If in doubt, partnering with a well-respected education product and solutions innovator, and leader, can be the first step to getting a new idea, if you haven’t an idea, yet, and then implementing one, when you get one. You cannot know everything, or do everything well, but you can gather the right band to play the right education music necessary for educators to teach and students to learn, today. If you hop on an education bandwagon plan, make sure the music and the instruments are up to date, and that the fit is customized, not only today, but tomorrow as well.
About the Author:
Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.