It is amazing how much things have changed in the last twenty years in the world around me. I currently live in an area I used to go to desert parties … I mean gatherings in, which is now filled with houses and businesses. When I was in high school I could practically fill my tank for $10, now it costs $80. Heck I used to have hair, now … well you get the point. However one thing that has not changed very much in my opinion is education. Teachers are still grossly underpaid, the sage on the stage approach is still pervasive if not worse, math instruction resembles that of the Kahn Academy, teachers are not held in high regard. The only real change in education has come with high stakes testing and labels. Before schools could get by with relative anonymity as long as students could read and do basic math when they left school.
Since high stakes testing has come into play we now make sure we “cover” material for the test. We rarely extend learning opportunities in fear we will miss the next standard we are to teach. Here a five steps towards a solution.
1. Stop trying to find a fix rather than a solution.
There is always a new trend to follow just to change it in a year or two when things do not work out. Over the years some good things have come around and have some staying power, a la PLC. However they are often simply the same idea reimaged and placed in a slick package. New programs are not always the solution. Get back to student needs, think of an IEP approach to teaching. Every student is an individual. Plan according to their learning modalities.
2. Explain to Arnie Duncan that the Kahn Academy is not innovative, in relation to the art of teaching.
Is this what we believe innovation really is, the only thing “different” was filming it. Even then there are plenty of other sites that do that. This is not transforming education it is simply trivializing what real teachers do. Can there be some uses for these videos as resources? Sure, at home for the kid that needs some assistance on a concept, they were taught by a trained teacher. However there are schools that are now promoting using this in the classroom as part of instruction.
3. Empower great leaders!
True change across classroom, buildings, districts, systems will only occur from the top down. Currently we have tons of incredible teachers that rise above the stress to make sure instruction is meaningful, challenging and relevant. Unfortunately widespread change to first best instruction will not occur until Administrators are allowed to guide teachers to make decisions based on student need rather than the page in the pacing guide they need to be at by Friday.
4. Empower great teachers!
The high stakes/label-making machine has handcuffed teachers. Consider this if you have been an educator for 3 years or less all you know is assessment and standards that have to be covered by High Stakes testing time. Teaching is a high performance job where expert decisions are made by the second. These decisions become difficult when you have to “get through” the standards. Allow teachers to work as units (PLC component), and plan projects and lessons across themes that encompass multiple standards.
I had the privilege of listening to Mike Schmoker speak in my district precipitated by the reading of his book Focus. Mr. Schmoker’s message is relatively simple Focus on a few key high leverage skills that cross curriculum and do nothing else until these skills have been mastered. As the leadership team in my district read this book many though I would be pushing back, as it says technology will not “save” education. They were wrong as the Instructional Technology Leader in my District I see first hand educators that mask their instructional shortcomings with technology. Technology will not save education but if teachers master sound lessons with “ authentic literacy (Schmoker, Focus, 2011, p. 11)” first then integrating technology or any other initiative will occur with ease.
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