This is particularly challenging for elementary school classroom teachers as the possibilities for what we can do are endless--there are so many learning paths available to both teachers and students today--many tools, processes and knowledge units.
In part, this prioritization process is led by standards at local, state and national levels. The prioritization is also led by the needs, interests, attitudes and abilities of the children we teach and the families we serve. Further, the prioritization gains strength from the vision one has for a child's future and his/her ability to learn independently and successfully.
Also at play is the fact that processes like RTI and PBL target students' needs and interests in new ways prompting a challenge to current school structure and culture. At the elementary school, I have found both RTI and PBL to be approaches that engage, motivate and develop students with autonomy, mastery and purpose. These approaches have served to lessen behavioral concerns and heighten sensitivity and response to individual student's academic, social and emotional needs and interests.
These changes also lead to the need for greater goal definition and vision at the elementary school level. I'm wondering about the following questions:
- Is project base learning an expectation or desired approach in a school or school system?
- What is the classroom teacher's role with respect to project base learning? Is his/her efforts to plan these units in response to current research and students' needs and interests supported, and if so, how?
- What is the protocol for collaboration with respect to project base learning? Are specialist teachers and classroom teachers expected to work together in this effort? If so, where is the time for planning, and what information, protocols and research will support this collaboration?
- Who owns the standards? Is it solely the job of the classroom teacher to understand, target and teach lessons embedded with standards? Does every teacher have a discrete set of standards to teach and evaluate? Are the standards integrated into project base learning endeavors and discrete skill lessons in collaborative ways?
- With respect to feedback and response, is this expected in all student work or only some? How do our efforts in this area serve to motivate and inform students and parents? Who is responsible for providing feedback and response, and what kind of feedback and response do we deem most valuable with respect to student success? When is feedback and response created and provided?
- What is the vision for a classroom teacher's role as we move from a factory model of education to a more individualized, targeted and project base process?
- What is the classroom teacher's responsibility with regard to the many, many other professionals that enter and exit the classroom each day to provide specific support, therapy or direction in integrated ways? This layer of professional service to children impacts a child's success greatly, but due to the extensive array of services integrated with classroom life each week, it also creates a complex web of service delivery and collaboration.
I find that I am at a fork in the road as a classroom teacher. I want to embrace the promising practices that RTI and PBL offer students. I want to make the time to weave standards, optimal tools (including technology) and knowledge into these practices in responsive, engaging, student-centered ways. I want to do this in collaboration with my colleagues in peaceful, focused ways that put a child's success center stage.
But I'm wondering, is my vision shared or even desired by others? Are we headed towards a more integrated approach to education or will the practice of discrete topics reign? Will it be balanced--some integrated approaches and some discrete dependent on focus, goal and vision?
And, specifically, what is my role as a classroom teacher at this time as education evolves with strength and promise? I really want to know. What do you think?