Turbulence—Leaders, Educators, and Students Responding to Rapid Change by Lyle Hamm Rowman and Littlefield (2021)

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Author, educator, administrator, professor, and researcher, Lyle Hamm’s 2021 book Turbulence—Leaders, Educators, and Students Responding to Rapid Change attempts to describe the world of education right now Describing both its challenges, and opportunities, attempting to provide readers with an opportunity to prioritize what is important for entire education teams in schools throughout North America.

Hamm provides an overview of the complex societal issues that have led to “turbulence” in our education system. By including questions at the end of each chapter, Hamm guides readers to realize the ability to remain optimistic and have hope by emphasizing the importance of authentic relationships, personal connections, and the power of humanity as solutions in a post-pandemic world.

Some elements of the book may be provocative and controversial to some, especially chapter three—”1999-2020: Wrestling with Darkness,” where Hamm focuses on topics such as violence in schools, lockdowns, divisive communities, and what is referred to as the “Digital Nightmare.” However, for many working on the front lines in one of the many diverse roles in any school, this chapter offers a welcome reprieve from the onslaught of external actors who seek to capitalize on one of the last remaining public systems and audiences in Ontario.

As a teacher or education worker in Ontario, it is impossible not to recognize how chapter three captures exactly what unions and many stakeholders have been trying to raise the alarm bells about for many years. Political decision-makers in Ontario and across North America are already demonstrating a shocking willingness to “hand over the keys” to private, for-profit, firms. Corporations and their well-resourced interest groups peddle their “innovative” and “modern” technologies at the expense of what Hamm says are needed now, more than ever—authentic relationships, personal connections, empathy, and critical thinking.

The book’s insights into the important role strong leadership plays in creating safe, inclusive, and vibrant schools will affirm what anyone working in a school already knows. It is very refreshing to have an author acknowledge the various leaders in any school – official and unofficial. Navigating chaos and schools would never be possible without the leadership of all workers in a school, especially plant/maintenance/custodial staff, office clerical staff, and other professional and paraprofessional staff.

Despite the book’s various positive elements, the fixation on the “moral imperative” of education workers and teachers and the oversimplification of the causes and far-reaching impacts of the turbulence and rapid changes is disappointing.

Schools are learning and working environments. The chaos and turbulence in society are not simply happening to students but, in fact, they impact every caring adult who works in public education. These challenges are compounded by the ongoing and persistent attack on education workers’ and teachers’ integrity, professionalism, and erosion of working conditions, and worker health and safety. Whether intentional or not, the author’s lack of adequate acknowledgement of this fact would limit the reader’s ability to find hope. Unless these issues are addressed, the storm raging in society and causing harm to learning and working environments may never be weathered.

Teachers and education workers generally embrace change and, despite what some may think, are adapting and improving their practices daily to meet the needs of their students. Hamm’s strategies and calls for change are not necessarily new or innovative.
What is disappointing about Turbulence, is how the author fails to adequately acknowledge or discuss the root cause of chaos in Ontario education at the hands of the provincial government. The chronic underfunding by the current provincial government in Ontario combined with the imposition of pedagogy and curriculum changes with almost no consultation with educators and inadequate resources and plans for implementation are well documented.

There is no mention of the need for advocacy to reverse the destructive forces attempting to undermine public education in North America. Hamm identifies many causes of turbulence but unless there is an acknowledgment of the role and impact of government and other actors on the education system, and a call for a unified political and social pushback against them, all of Hamm’s suggestions will not lead to any smooth waters in the days, months, or years ahead.

Overall, Turbulence offers moments of hope but falls short of offering those who work in public education the necessary playbook to truly end the turbulence and improve the learning and working conditions for students and staff working in schools in Ontario.

About Dan Earle
Dan Earle is an Executive Assistant in the Communications/Political Action department of OSSTF/FEESO.

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