Transformation Train

It has recently become clear to me that I believe that the special education system needs to be transformed, not reformed. To reform something means to make it better, to transform something means to change it into something completely different.  Although there are good people working hard in the world of special education, I believe it needs to be changed into something that looks very different from what it looks like today.

As I speak my message of transformation for special education, I am pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm I get from both AEA and LEA folks with this message.  There truly seems to be a consensus that the current state of things is not meeting the needs of students, that this is a system that is terribly flawed at the core.  In some ways, I think it might be easier if I was getting more push-back on this message; I am completely comfortable and articulate when I am engaging in discussion about the many failures of the system we currently have in place.

So, once I have done my dog and pony show to the choir, I am staring into faces asking a common question.  Yeah, the current system sucks.  So, what are we going to do about it?   Well, I know one things for sure we aren’t going to do about it; we aren’t going to keep doing things the same way.

Transforming schools, and particularly special education within a school system, appears to be a nearly impossible task.  I would respectfully argue, that even those that preach the word of transformation, find ourselves participating in a culture that ultimately promotes the status quo.  We can reform, but we don’t allow ourselves to transform.  The beginning is always the best.  As educators, we are brilliant at laying out the problem, brainstorming solutions, and action planning.  I have seen time and time again how the train leaves the station (and we love to say things like, “The train is leaving the station, you either get on this train or you aren’t on the train at all”) and there we are, on the new track with all our believers, traveling down the line we laid ourselves, to a transformed future.

But, then, undoubtedly the conversation on the train becomes horribly bogged down in the minutiae.   We begin to move off course, become frightened that our train is moving too fast, the destination might not be what we thought it should be, the seat covers aren’t really what we wanted, we left someone important behind and we need to go back and get them and listen to what they think we should do, we didn’t pack the right supplies, the letters on the tickets aren’t clear enough.  So, we stop the train and we decided to re-think the plan, focus on the little details, mire ourselves in the barriers.  And, before you know it, we are back at the train station, off the train, and doing pretty much exactly what we were doing before we go on the bus.

To transform the world of special education, we need to get on the train and leave this station even if we don’t know where in the world we are going.  It truly is an “anywhere but here” phenomenon.  We may need to visit other places before we make a decision about where we want to go; we may take several different tracks to get there, and we may pick up and drop folks off along the way.  I am absolutely OK with that, as long as this train leaves and doesn’t come back:)

Posted on this blog are five things you can start doing tomorrow as a teacher, an administrator, or as an AEA support person.  Yes, there are things we can do differently tomorrow; without training, without additional funds, without changes to the law, and without everyone participating.  These are my ideas, and I know you have more, so please post them to share.


(August 30, 2013)