Looking for Landmarks During Times of Change

Open water swimming is a joy for those who regularly swim in pools. No lanes to share. No chlorine or salt to taste. No fluorescent din, and no stale, steamy air. Okay, it’s not quite that bad, but pool swimming can not begin to compare with that of open water. The one significant challenge when swimming out in nature is staying the course–particularly when there is no lifeguard monitoring your safety.  In a pool, lane buoys and painted lines keep you in your lane and prevent swimmers from straying off course. Not so in open water. Swim as you do in the pool with head in water except when taking in a breath and you will end up “who knows where.” In some ways, school reform is analogous to swimming in open water, with vast possibilities as one goes beyond the safe, structured setting of public education into an unknown, and potentially uncomfortable environment of innumerable opportunities.  Getting to a desired destination, the tricky part,  requires faith, knowledge, skills, due diligence, and attention to where you’re headed.

It’s easy to get caught up in the change process and neglect to check one’s position. In open water, the conditioned habits of pool swimming can lead to a circuitous rather than direct path, resulting in greater fatigue and other potential issues. For that reason, experienced open water swimmers regularly lift their heads to sight every 5-9 strokes, looking forward with head out of water to a distant landmark. Each time the head is raised, the landmark is targeted. If off course, subtle changes in stroke direction quickly remedy the swimmer’s path. Failure to sight is analogous to working with blinders on, clueless to changes around us, and inevitably leaving one far off track (Not a good thing whether swimming in a lake or implementing new assessments, curricula, or professional performance review protocols in a school building). For whatever reason, be it fear, perceived or real lack of time, old habits, or other challenges, getting lost in the churn of change is easily done.

Back to the open water swim, it’s relatively easy for the swimmer to monitor and adjust his or her path. Other than occasional chop in the water, keeping track of your landmark is easy. However, for the educator, the process is much, much more complicated and dependent on team work and good leadership. First of all, everyone needs to know what the landmarks are in the action plan process. What are the goals in the reform effort? Secondly, people need the skills, knowledge, and incentives to target those landmarks. Open water swimmers don’t venture beyond shoreline without good technique and aerobic capacity. Unfortunately, the same can’t always be said for educators ill prepared to grapple with complex change required in the reform effort. Last but not least, educators need time. Time to lift their heads and check out their surroundings. Time to perfect their technique and capacity, and time to celebrate the progress being made in their concerted efforts.

As school winds down, summer is the perfect season to create purposeful action plans that clearly identify desired results (landmarks), ensure sustained quality professional development (technique and capacity), and build in regularly scheduled times to monitor and adjust progress (sighting on landmarks). Oh, and it’s also a great time to get out to the water for a refreshing swim.


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