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How do You Rock the Boat?

Updated: Mar 17, 2019

As progressive teachers, we at Transform·Ed have often felt confined by traditional approaches to education. When we are at our most resilient, these instances are merely frustrating, but after facing a number of roadblocks to progressive pedagogy our frustration may turn into teacher burnout, leading us to move to a new school or even quit the profession. Our mission at Transform·Ed is to enable teachers to use progressive, research-based educational approaches to advance student growth and development -- without getting fired. Ultimately, our goal is to transform whole schools, districts, and other educational communities into arenas that generate personal and professional growth for students and educators. But in the meantime, it can be challenging to be the lone voice calling for change in your school. What should you do in that situation? Do you rock the boat? Do you keep your head down and maintain the status quo, even though it doesn’t seem to be working?

Debra Meyerson’s book, Rocking the Boat: How Tempered Radicals Effect Change Without Making Trouble, addresses this conundrum. Her book is not written for educators, but the ideas are certainly applicable in an educational context. She discusses the importance of recognizing the choices we have in difficult situations - to learn, to remain silent, to depersonalize the critiques that appear to be quite personal. She offers three forms of responses to resist quietly: psychological resistance (e.g. “armoring”), self-expressions (e.g. dress, classroom decor, leadership style), and behind-the-scenes actions (e.g. work with a community-based organization on education issues, mentor and encourage others to “stay in the game, even when it looks hopeless,” channeling information and resources for those who don’t have access). Meyerson emphasizes these actions can be self-affirming of your “difference”, connect you with similarly-minded educators, and produce ripples that lead to additional change. Karl Weick refers to this rippling as “deviation amplification,” which is when “a single atypical action sets the stage for others like it to follow,” (Meyerson, 2008, p. 44).

Transform·Ed is excited to build a community of educators who consider themselves tempered radicals. Together, we can help others stay positive, embrace the title of tempered radical, and set in motion a series of ripples that has the power to transform education for the better.

What strategies have you used to rock the boat?

Please share below!



Meyerson, D. E. (2008). Rocking the boat: How tempered radicals effect change without making trouble. Harvard Business School Publishing: Boston, MA.

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