Friday, November 01, 2013

Teaching: Today's Job Description?

Our teaching job descriptions will change dependent on organization, experience, and need.  I like to operate with a clear job description, and have realized that I need to audit and update my job description since the old one is not working anymore.

What job description fits the present mandates, expectations, and needs of the learning community--what do students, families, leaders, and the community want?

Families, leaders, and the community want positivity. This is clear from many exchanges of late. Actually, most people move towards positivity, and I notice that in my blog too. Positive posts get far more hits than critical posts. As a critical thinker who enjoys a challenge, I have to remind myself that in general most people prefer the positive description rather than a critical challenge. Children, however, are a bit more like me and deal with a critical challenge with open arms and ready minds--hence while using positivity, I will continue to offer children positive problems too--places where they can problem solve, analyze, and feel that excitement of the "break through" moment, new thinking, and growth.

Learning Choice
Families and students look forward to choice. Families have strong, varied opinions about home study, technology, and curriculum. Hence, the homework buffet. Similarly, children thrive with choice. Hence, I'll continue to offer learning experiences with similar content and skill, but a variety of ways to study, learn, master, and present that content and skill.

Standards and Scores
Most families and most administrators are concerned with standards and scores. Administrators don't want to deal with low scores, and families become worried by low scores. This presents a real challenge to teachers since the scores are related to a narrow slice of school life when it comes to the actual tests and the amount of content tested. The standards, on the other hand, mostly represent a wide foundation of essential academic skills and knowledge at my level. Hence, I'll continue to embed the standards into worthy design with an eye on the scores, and I'll continue to collect lots of evidence to prove growth--evidence that is required of teachers today, and evidence that informs effective teaching efforts.

Passion, Interest, and Dignity: Worthy Learning Design
A focus on scores and standards without worthy learning design can result in education that is dehumanizing. If you're the child who comes to class way behind in terms of academic standards, the "drill and kill" approach to mostly paper-pencil, multiple choice standardized tests could be a nightmare. This is the tough part for teachers. While we're expected to bring students towards mastery in a large number of standards and scores, we know in our hearts that we have to teach with dignity, care, and the acknowledgement that children are much more than a score or a test--that children represent a wide variety of talent, spirit, interest, passion, and joy that is not a focus of tests or scores. In life, those that embrace their passions, gifts, and skills succeed, and more often, than not, people's success is not dependent on scores, but instead dependent on relationships, personality, passion, drive, happiness, and meaning.

Limited Share
While I believe in transparent share, I realize that, in many ways, many learning communities are not ready for this share. Many do not want to make the difficult choices of advocacy when it comes to new tools and practice since those new tools and practice often challenge long-held, widely accepted traditional practice. Hence, many who want to try new tools and approaches, do it quietly and don't share as share often results in tighter rules, limited tools, and banned approaches. Again, this is a tough dilemma for teachers who work with children every day as teachers know that engagement matters, and believe in the kind of work Hattie's research supports--work that includes strategizing, assessment, adaptation, creativity, and response to teach each child well. Many systems are not built for that vital, ever-changing, natural teaching and learning process, hence many good teachers stay quiet and don't share as they innovate, adapt, and respond.  I am sorry about this fact, but sadly don't see it changing, in fact I see greater challenge to share now than before and I'm not quite sure why this is true.

Classroom/Student Focused
Similar to limited share, it seems like new evaluation systems are creating schools that look more like factories than the learning communities I dream of.  The actual intent of the new Massachusetts' evaluation system was to create more collaborative, vital learning organizations, but the time it takes to enact the system and the level of understanding it takes to really embrace the new standards have created obstacles to the system's intent. This past summer I studied the system with depth. I actually agreed with all the standards, but feared that learning organizations would not be able to adequately implement the new evaluation system with the intended depth.  I think that may be coming true as I read stories and observe the system first hand.  The new evaluation system recreates top-down schools giving great authority to leadership and great responsibility and less voice to educators--hence the teaching role today is more classroom/student focused, and less about shared leadership and learning communities in many schools.

Collegial Competition
While research points to collaboration, the new evaluation system supports competition. While some teachers are doing it "right," and earning high scores, other teachers are doing it "wrong." The way you are treated in an organization gives a clear view of who is on the "right" side and who is on the "wrong" side thus creating more competition than collaboration--if you share your idea, the teacher next door might do it better than you and get a better score, and then when it comes time for evaluation you'll be given a lower status.  Do I believe in this, of course not?  Will I stop sharing--no, but when it comes to survival, keeping your job, and earning status, you can imagine what is going to happen.  What would have been much better than individual teaching or student scores would have been school system reliability scores or evaluations, evaluations that fostered the kind of collaboration and team research supports.

Hence, while I have been working with the premise of my dream school or learning community, I will now work with greater awareness of today's teaching realities--realities outlined in this post. To "be the change you want to see in the world" advice has backfired for me with regard to the whole school community atmosphere, yet it still may work in my own classroom environment. Do you agree with my current observations?  Are these true for you and your learning organization,   or would you change what I've written in any ways?

I will persevere and make every effort to meet the standards above with integrity, effort, an open mind and growth mindset.  I look forward to your thoughts and comments.