Go Together

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

–African proverb

I’ve been thinking a lot about this proverb the last few days and the meaning it has to me. In my opinion, “go together” is just about the best advice I’ve ever heard for navigating this world–especially the professional world of teaching right now. It’s good advice to give students, colleagues, families, and the community. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the many things I have learned walking alongside others.

Last semester, I learned a great deal from involving colleagues in a study (as part of my doctoral work) using cognitive interviews. To briefly explain: cognitive interviews explore participant thinking and responses to survey questions in a think-aloud interview style. Rather than simply reading and answering questions, the participants talk about what they are thinking about when they read each question, specifically noting anything that causes confusion. Interview data is used to improve survey questions for increased validity and reliability. This process of “going together” with others was so cool! I was completely addicted after the first interview because I learned so much from the interviewee. With each subsequent interview, I gained additional perspectives, new viewpoints, clearer ideas, and a long list of confusions/misconceptions to address. (If interested, you can find more information about the research cycle and findings here.) The resulting survey is substantially better from the collaborative process of cognitive interviews.

Reflecting on the process, I am convinced of the tremendous benefits of consulting others–as a researcher, as a teacher, and as a person in this world. Being a good leader requires commitment to going together and seeking input. It was so interesting to think about the semantics of survey questions and the possible interpretations. I never could have understood the full picture without the involvement of others. It made me wonder if other surveys go through this process during development. Involving others made such a difference.

One driving principle of action research (and change theory in general) is the involvement of stakeholders. Essentially, it’s important to go together when leading change. I’ve been thinking a lot about the many surveys I have taken as a teacher and how those results might have been used. Perhaps I have answered survey questions that were confusing, misleading, or open to interpretation. Have some of my survey responses possibly been misinterpreted in the past? Probably so. How exactly are surveys being used in education reform? Are the questions reliable and valid? Is anyone even asking the teachers?

I hope that teachers are being sought as stakeholders in education reform, but it often feels like we aren’t included.  Regardless of whether reformers are right or wrong, I challenge teachers to seek opportunities to go together with reformers, sharing teacher perspectives. And when necessary, I challenge teachers to go together with other teachers to stop reforms that are harming our students.

If the saying above is true, the reformers may move fast when going alone, but they can’t get far when they face teachers who are going together.

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