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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Are We Asking the Right Questions in Education?

There's areas of teaching and learning where we are not asking the right questions or communicating helpful information on a regular basis?

We're losing time by not updating and communicating focus and process regularly on topics that are most important. Rather than a yearly consideration, in this day and age a regular process of change and updating is necessary.

We have committees in place for this work, but the efforts are not always regularly communicated, and process often not matched with current and/or inclusive need or interest.

How can we do this better?

Good Communication Patterns
First, we can start by sharing the good news. There's little communication about efforts that work in our system. For example, I know there's a dynamic teacher in one school doing amazing things. I read her website to catch a glimpse of what she is doing and why she is doing it, but she doesn't share a lot of her rationale or deep think on her website. I know she's highly regarded as I hear about her on the street when parents and students talk and I see the broad smile of the curriculum leader every time she's in her midst, but no one is telling me the following:
  • What is she doing that's so wonderful?
  • How do we know it's wonderful--what measures are we using?
  • Why is she doing what she's doing and how does she make it work.
I could visit her classroom and take a look, but that's not what I want to know--I want to understand the deep underpinnings of this educator's work--the truth and facts when it comes to her good teaching and learning.

I also want to know what our curriculum leaders discuss at their regular meetings--what ideas do they have for the future, what problems are they trying to solve, and what efforts are they celebrating. We never hear that information which in a way makes teaching much more isolated and a bit like wandering in the dark. To have that information would build team and common direction, focus, and effort. 

I have some measures I use to determine growth, but in some ways, those measures are losing strength as the teaching/learning landscape and research changes. What are we measuring and why?

Progressive Assessments
Also, I'm witness to some big issues in education, problems I wish we'd take a thoughtful look at. For example a few students who struggle a lot in math will soon take five tests, four standardized and one systemwide test, that they simply aren't ready for as they are a couple of years behind what those tests assess. These students have made good progress this year, but the tests will be a downer for them and I wonder why they have to continually take tests that are years ahead of their developmental path in particular subjects just because they started out "behind" in those subjects. We're smart enough now as a society to give progressive tests--tests that begin where you left off, and tests that show the growth that has happened. We are also smart enough to look closely at our learning programs so that we're fostering progressive growth for every child that is well tailored, meaningful, and responsive to their individual needs. I think we've made a good start in this realm, but there's lots of research to consider in this regard to make sure we are doing the best that we can do.

Deep Teaching and Learning
I'm also wondering about the issue that we're propelled to teach a lot fast. Even though common core has reduced the number of standards, there's still too many standards when it comes to teaching with depth and great project based learning. Too many learning points lead to old fashion "sage on stage" teaching rather than rich, exploration teaching. For example I'd really like to have the time to teach all my students to code, and then to prompt them to spend the time coding the behavior of essential math concepts. I know that this learning would create a deep understanding of math, but for now, the time just doesn't exist to do this promising study.

Good Focus/Right Questions
Further, while we have so many wonderful tech devices, we're not re-looking at how we use this terrific technology. What technology and projects truly inspire the lifelong learning competencies that make our students strong for their future happiness, success, and contribution? How can we best maximize the use of these awesome tools? How do we design and integrate study in this area, study that is forward moving and meaningful for all students, not just those with great tech access and support at home. 

Streamline Evaluation Efforts
Finally time on task that matters is an area of concern. The new Massachusetts evaluation system in theory is great. I like the process it prompts teachers to go through, but I don't like how much time it takes our leaders to assess and evaluate--we lose a lot of leadership time. I'd rather see this process streamlined so that we don't lose so much leadership time. I suggest the following:
  • Teachers self assess using a guide. Teachers create the students learning and professional learning goals. 
  • Teachers and leaders discuss the self assessment and goals.
  • Teachers work towards their goals. Leaders help out by supporting professional learning efforts and visiting the classroom to take a look at how the goals are shaping up.
  • In the end the teacher writes his/her own assessment in a short two page letter where he/she identifies how they've reached for the goals using a number of evidence links.
  • The leader reads the letter, looks at the evidence links, discusses the work with the educator, and together they make follow-up goals for the year ahead. Perhaps the leader writes a short response to with regard to the educator's letter.
This full circle process would be more meaningful and time efficient, leaving leaders with more time to lead and educators with more time to teach in deliberate, thoughtful, and focused ways. Right now the cumbersome portfolios and questionable data points (DDMs and the ever changing standardized tests) are too time consuming leaving little time to grow schools in the way they should develop.

The world of education will continually evolve and change, and it won't be perfect, but it's important that our ongoing systems stay open, inclusive, and focused on the children we teach and the potential we hold for a promising education for every child.

One More Idea: Many organizations are beginning to invite teachers to the table with regard to voice and choice, but many of these organizations are unwilling to pay teachers for this time. Time is money and to give extra time to make change means you don't have the time for other matters and may need to hire those services, hence money is needed. Just a thought to further what we're able to do together.