Redefining the “experts” in education reform might be the key to success

Can we radically shift our perception of who should be enacting real change in K-12 education?

MATT CANDLER: I was trying to sum up, and I turn 50 soon, and I've been thinking back on my career and if I was summing up the lesson that I've learned in the last ten years it really is about this distinction between how you do your work and what that means about the relationships that you're in with the people in that equation. And no doubt the 40-year-old version of me did school reform to people and I'm hoping that the 50-year-old version of me will do it with people. But in fact, what I'm really looking forward to is a world where school is done by those families I'm trying to do it with on their own, that it's self-actualized, that it's under their own power, that power itself is redistributed and they actually have the agency they need to do school by themselves. So, if we're going on this tour from 'to' to 'with' to 'by' I feel like I'm in the middle of that and I don't make progress towards 'with' and 'by' if I don't interrogate my methods and I don't interrogate my own mindsets.

And for me, one really crystal clear example of that that is under with right now as we speak at 4.0 is answering the simple question, who coaches an education entrepreneur? When we started it was me and it was people that I knew. They were experts, mostly folks who grew up like me in privilege or had spent most of their career in positions of power, they were teachers, they were principals, they were people training teachers and principals. I did not hire students and families and people who were approximate to the folks we're coaching in the early days of 4.0, I hired experts. And what we're trying to do in the 4.0 community is redefine expert and say we can make a very practical change right now to how we do this by instead of hiring our own staff basically fire ourselves and hire alums who have just gone through the program. So, that's one example a very concrete step that Hassan, who is now the CEO of 4.0, lead us through and it's been amazing to see the changes. So again, this specific switch from seeing yourselves as the experts, instead you see yourself as the host to experts who already know the answers and you're just putting those experts close to other folks who are also trying to do the work.

I'll just tell you what it's felt like to look in the mirror at 4.0 as someone who founded this organization, was in charge of it for close to nine years and now just recently has handed it off to someone who is a two time alum and a staff member. What I've experienced throughout that transition is the process of letting go of some of my own control and sharing some of my own power with the people around me. I think I've bought into this idea that the future of school is as much about empowering people, equipping them with a voice, an agency and resources, financial, social, emotional so that they might be more capable of being part of the process, be less consumer and more producer, to blur that line. And there's no question that for most of my career I've seen myself as the provider, as the solution provider. And there's been a radical shift in the last few years at 4.0 where we have said we will resist the temptation to see ourselves, the small staff of ten to 15 people, as the experts and we will instead embrace this value of hospitality that our job is not to provide wisdom but to create a space where wisdom can be shared amongst those people that we're investing in. And so, 4.0 has very much changed from a transactional institution and it is slowly starting to breathe like a community, like a party that you're inviting people to constantly and that we really see ourselves, the staff of 4.0, as hosts to this increasingly more courageous conversation about what school could look like and who might actually be in charge of answering that question of what the future of school could be.

  • The right kind of education reform will happen with people instead of to people.
  • Part of this requires redefining who the "experts" are in education. It might be beneficial to loosen control on the part of those that train principals and teachers.
  • If educators can view themselves as hosts to the conversation of what schools could look like, the movement for change becomes more courageous.