“We need great teachers!” I frequently hear this war cry for improving schools. The insinuation is that great teachers can fix what’s wrong with our education system. However, in the last 5 months I’ve gotten a crash course in just how challenging it is for a single teacher to make meaningful change at a school or district level. I’ve spent the last five months filling out forms, writing course descriptions, meeting with decision makers, attending site council and board meetings, responding to a barrage of emails, and jumping through the necessary hoops to get a new program off the ground for next year.

Here’s what I’ve learned…schools and districts might like the idea of being progressive and innovative, but innovation requires two essential ingredients that are beyond my control as a teacher: financial investment and the desire to change.

If education is going to continue to evolve and improve, school districts must be willing to invest in new innovative programs. It’s not enough to keep funding the status quo. I’d love to see districts earmark funding specifically for innovation and experimentation. Schools make it clear what they value by where they spend money. If we say we value innovation, then we need to support that statement with funding.

When my first presentation to request funding for alternative furniture to enhance the project-based philosophy of this new program was met with skepticism instead of excitement, I wrote a Donors Choose project for moveable furniture. I spent hours working on that project proposal and sending it out via my social networks. As I worked on it, I wondered if most people outside of education realize how much time and money most teachers spend out of their own reservoir of resources to create their ideal classrooms.

This process has also reminded me how important it is for decision makers to move beyond their fear and embrace experimentation. I realize that change is scary, but it’s becoming more and more clear that schools need to change to stay relevant and meet the needs of today’s learners. Schools and districts with enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers should celebrate and support those individuals. It’s too easy to allow fear of the unknown to stifle innovation and limit the potential of forward thinking educators. The only way to keep those “great teachers” is to allow them to do great things. Otherwise, they will move onto other opportunities.

I see incredible teachers leave the classroom every year to pursue more financially lucrative opportunities. In fact, in my work beyond the classroom as a trainer and speaker, I’m often asked, “Why are you still teaching?” My response, “Teaching is my favorite job!” Well, working with my students and designing curriculum are my favorite jobs…the rest of teaching is exhausting and, at times, frustrating. I stay because I love what I do, but I can imagine being driven from this profession by all of the bureaucracy that makes change so glacial.

As this year comes to a close, I am simultaneously planning for the beginning of next year. Instead of enjoying the satisfying sense of closure that comes with the end of a year and sense of a job well done, I’m staring at a long to-do list of items that needs to get done to bring a new program to life by August. Figuring out how to fund alternative furniture and make sure students have access to technology rests squarely on my shoulders. It’s a daunting prospect. I understand why so many excited, forward thinking teachers get frustrated and leave this profession in search of spaces where their creativity is valued and celebrated.

17 Responses

  1. Well said Catlin- I sense your frustration and wish you well! You truly are an amazing educator!

    • Thanks for sharing your blog, Sarah! I’m glad there is a growing dialogue about this conflict between school as an institution and innovation. The fact that the very design of most schools stifles innovation is a problem.


  2. Hi Catlin,

    Boy, I could not agree with you more. I’m far too often presented with examples of that lack of foresight and willingness to change by people who are fearful. It bums me out. Needless to say, I’m hopeful your new program is uber successful despite the obstacles you face. And I do love your idea of required spending targeted toward innovation, too…

    Best of luck!


    • Thank you, Gene!

      The good news is I’m not worried about the program being a success! I’m SO excited about it. It’s a long slog getting there!

      Hopefully, the innovation fund concept takes off! It makes sense to me. We cannot say we want to be innovative but fail to fund that goal.

      Take care.

  3. Administrative support at all levels is key to moving forward and getting our students prepared for the future. I too have struggled with losing momentum because we teachers can’t do it all on our own. Take heart in the fact that you are providing support and inspiration to others through your trials. Carry on the good fight!

    • Thank you, Leslie!

      I know I am not alone in trying to push the boundaries. There are so many incredible teachers trying to create exciting change. I just wish we had more support, so we could bring our ideas to fruition. Thank goodness for summer 😉

      Take care.

  4. I love that you are working so hard to move to #flexseating in your school! I read your other article, and I can tell you are invested in going full-scale. Way to go! Your staff and students are lucky to have you advocating for them.

    I moved to flexible seating during spring break this year. Didn’t ask permission, just did it! Maybe I’m lucky to work in a school where I felt I had that freedom, but honestly, it didn’t even occur to me to ask. It’s my classroom so I just did what I wanted to. My former teammate, who now teaches 5th grade, has had flex seating for years, and I finally got on board. Kids love it, my principal loves it, teammates, other teachers do, too. Now more teachers are ready to #ditchthedesks for next year! I think innovation and change start with just doing something and showing others it works. BTW, I didn’t spend a penny–parents loaned, and I brought items from home. Follow me on Twitter to see photos. @hoppytoteach

    Do you think teachers are hesitant to try new things, and then get stuck thinking of all the things that could go wrong so they don’t try?

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Mary! It looks like am going to need to get creative too.

      I think there are a lot of reasons why teachers hesitate to try new things. You are probably right that many teachers fear that things may go wrong. I also think the lack of support from the school community is a deterrent. My own experience has taught me that the time, energy, and cost involved in trying new things are also barriers.


  5. It doesn’t matter that I teach in Australia – the same issues seem to be across the education systems globally! I completely agree with everything you’ve expressed here, Caitlin. In terms of funding, it’s not so much our schools that are the issue, but the broader system at district or regional level and beyond. It’s very frustrating that our policy makers don’t seem to understand that schools of the future are substantially different to what we’ve known before and investment in innovation needs to be made as well as big cuts to the red tape we encounter at every turn.

  6. I agree with you, and I feel your frustration.

    A few teachers and I have been trying to change our bell schedule for the past 1.5 years (from 42 mins to 50+ mins). We had a committee, held meetings, researched, designed surveys, crunched numbers, and 8% of teachers who disagreed with the 92% who want change were very loud and caused our admin to take a long pause. However, we are persisting, and a trial run will be sometime this upcoming academic year (prior to board presentations and more meetings, of course). Phew!

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