Tilting at Windmills or Real Work with Real People?

by Jim Rickabaugh, Director

I have been honored to be a part of this work in CESA 1 from the beginning. However, I was taken aback recently during a conversation with a principal who is involved in the Personalized Learning Initiative. He asked if in doing this work I ever felt like the literary character, Don Quixote who fought windmills and engaged in other quests in pursuit of a seemingly impossible dream.

I did not answer at the time, but have continued to think about the question. Upon reflection, my answer is “No.” Without getting into the metaphorical and psychological aspects of Don Quixote, this work is real.

It has real consequences for learners. Every time I visit classrooms, I see students deeply engaged in their learning, valuing their work and investing in themselves, not just doing what they are asked to gain the approval or avoid the consequences meted out by adults.

This work holds real possibilities for dramatically improving learning experiences and outcomes for students. Every week, I see this work renew and transform the spirits of educators and the ways in which they embrace their profession.

There is growing evidence that by redesigning our system to place students at the center and provide a clear line of sight to success for each learner, we can prevent the waste of human potential in our society and the financial drag on our economy of an under-educated and under-skilled work force.

I see the growing possibility that this work – here and elsewhere around the nation – will transform the narrative about schools and educators. This work holds the promise to move us to a place where politicians, the media and general public see it as our best hope to preserve and build on the successes of our democracy and society and serve the growing needs of our economy. A place where supporting education is again a popular political position to take, and where the quality of our education system is a key part of our collective vision for a brighter future.

Are we there or getting close? Not yet. But every time a student accelerates and deepens their understanding because their learning experience has been transformed; every time an educator is renewed and recommits to their profession because they see the power of personalizing learning for their students; and every time a parent sees their child become excited again about school, learning and their potential to succeed, the momentum grows, the movement picks up supporters and the inevitability of success becomes more real.

So, I suppose that in some ways this work might be compared to Don Quixote. It involves the pursuit of what some may say is an impossible dream. But this is a pursuit worthy of our best energy, thinking and effort. It is also not the quest of only two people. Our 2014 Convening proved that – more than 400 people attended and it was still only a very small sample of those who share the dream and are willing to do what it takes to make the dream a reality for every learner.


© Can Stock Photo Inc. / tbarrat

One thought on “Tilting at Windmills or Real Work with Real People?

  1. Marirose says:

    Yes…yes….yes….it is real and it is work. Both for our staff to see teaching a new way and our students to see learning a new wat but most of all to see we are ALL learners and we are ALL teachers.

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