Flip the System is a forthcoming book and an international teacher-led alternative to test based accountability and privatization. We propose a powerful alternative to these issues by strengthening the professional position of teachers by means of a (new) educational vocabulary, global consciousness of teachers and through strengthening professional collective autonomy.
In October 2013 Rene Kneyber and I met online. We knew each other by reputation and followed one another on Twitter. Rene is a math teacher, authority on classroom management, author, columnist and blogger. I’m a history teacher, blogger and an expert on blended learning. Both of us are prolific Twitter users and teacher activists. But this was the first real interaction we had. The reason for our exchange was the latest in a long series of misguided government policy initiatives and statements. We took exception to the way education was used and portrayed and decided to write an opinion piece for a national newspaper. We’re at the opposite of the educational spectrum. Rene is more of a traditionalist and I work at a very progressive school. But we both recognized each other as professional educators.
We’ve been teaching for around 12 years and slowly became more aware of how ridiculously our educational system was organized: rigid, top-down, standardized, with more and more testing and getting worse. Most notable, at least to us, was the complete absence of teachers in the discourse and the decision-making process on a meta-, but sadly often also on a school-level. As a profession we found ourself reduced to implementing other peoples ideas and our classroom expertise was not being recognized for what it’s worth.
Rene and I were already both involved in several initiatives regarding professional autonomy. Not just complaining, but also offering alternatives to the way Dutch policy was made and implemented. Amongst others there was the Professional Pride (Beroepseer) foundation. Rene had already helped publish a book in a series they published. And since there were already a book on police professionals, we thought it was time to publish one on teachers and education: Het Alternatief (The Alternative)
There isn’t a lack of educational books in the Netherlands, but there is a lack of teacher involvement in writing those books. If they do involve teachers, they’re usually about classroom practices. Practical stuff. And for the rest most (well meaning) people didn’t find it necessary to ask active classroom teachers to contribute to policy and philosophical books.
Teachers, together with renowned researchers, wrote a large part of Het Alternatief. The book itself symbolizes the way forward. It wasn’t hard to find good teachers who were willing to write on a diverse set of subjects. Luckily it wasn’t hard to find well known researchers who were willing to contribute as well. When asked Andy Hargreaves, Dennis Shirley, Michael Fullan, Howard Gardner, Paul Kirschner and Gert Biesta amongst others graciously agreed.
The book was published on October 4th and the secretary of education received the first copy out of our hands. Het Alternatief turned out to be more successful than we could have ever imagined. It struck a nerve, especially amongst teachers. A few weeks later it was already discussed in parliament, national newspapers and it is part of the discussion shaping policy on a national level, but just as important, in schools as well. There are many similar initiatives and organizations. In that respect the book is part of the zeitgeist. Maybe not just in the Netherlands, but internationally as wel.
Call to action
That is why we’ve decided to write an international version of “Het Alternatief” as a follow-up, in English: The Alternative or Flip the System. One of the things that inspired (and worried) us are the educational struggles going on in the United States. But not just in the US. A move towards standardized testing, privatization, neo-liberal policies, corporatization, top-down accountability, value added assessment are to be found all over the world. Pasi Sahlberg rightly calls it the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM)
As the world is getting more globalized, so is educational policy. Neo-liberal economic policy has profoundly changed the public sector all over the world in the last twenty years, including education. International benchmarking by the OECD (the PISA reports) has further crystalized this trend. Politicians, policy makers, researchers all meet one another on a global stage.
At the same time, by means of that same globalization and through social media, alternative ways of organizing education have also gotten more attention, Finland being the most notable example. Researchers like Diane Ravitch, Andy Hargreaves and Pasi Sahlberg are global thought leaders in this debate. We think it is time that global teacher-leaders add their voice to this chorus as well. We need to have a voice on the global stage, that is where national policy is also being shaped and that directly influences our work with children in the classroom.
The aim of the book is to help shape that movement. With the help of Education International (eiei.org) and their Unite4Education initiative we’ve begun work on an international edition. A few well known contributors have already agreed to write articles or do interviews. At the same time there are already a lot of local initiatives and organizations putting alternatives into practice. National organizations like the Centre for Teacher Quality, NBPTS and the Dutch Onderwijscooperatie have already identified national teacher-leaders.
We want teacher-leaders worldwide to contribute and start a global dialogue. Use social media to extend our Personal Learning Networks globally. We want to explore inspiring case studies from all different continents. Just like the Dutch version it will be a quest to which we don’t have an outcome yet. Although there are big cultural, political and economical differences we firmly believe that learning and teaching have a universal quality. We hope you will help us get a little closer to a global teacher community by adding your voice to this global dialogue and maybe the book.
At the Teaching and Learning 2014 Conference there will be a panel discussion with Linda Darling-Hammond, Susan Hopgood (EI), Dennis van Roekel (NEA) Daniel J, Montgommery (AFT) and myself on “Leading the (Global) Profession of Teaching.” from 11.30-12.30 Room 207