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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Education Collaboration: Research and Reality

A colleague from a school system other than mine called to tell me how an administrator asked her to implement a research-based program in her classroom. My colleague who has been teaching school for more than a quarter of a century was able to quickly think about the command and recognize that while it represents good research it doesn't represent the reality of her current teaching/learning situation--there needs to be a lot of leg work done before the administrator's command could be rightfully implemented in a way to serve all students well.

Too often administrators jump to implement research without talking about the research and reality with the educators they manage. Too often this kind of mismatch of decree and reality creates lost opportunity for what could really happen to move schools forward.

In my colleague's situation, there are big questions left unanswered. The biggest question that exists in her school and system is "How are we going to serve our students well including our many students who face unimaginable social and economic circumstances?" Daily this colleague relays stories to me that remind me of Dicken's tales, tales I never thought would come to life in my lifetime as a citizen of the United States.

In the school I write about, there are many issues that exist, issues that stand as obstacles to good work and teaching. Issues that include the following:
  • Educators who work with the students are rarely to never consulted about new programming or needs. Hence they go into classrooms daily that represent vast needs with little to no voice or choice. Hence good, quality innovation and new ideas are lacking to create a better learning situation for all those children, the same children who will grow up to be difficult citizens simply because they are not getting what they need at a young age.
  • It seems like funding is not spent well in that system or that they truly don't have the funds they need to support the students. Computers hardly exist, innovative programming is lacking, building updates and safe/healthy schools are challenged--I'd love to look at that budget.
  • Administrators are often hired that have far less experience than the teachers who teach the students, thus the mismatch story and many more.
  • Administrative turnover is great so there is little consistency in leadership which is also an issue.
Fortunately, the system that I work in has not faced the issues that my colleague's school faces. I ache for the students in her school because I know that my students are getting a better program. It's not because the teachers in her school are less qualified or committed, but instead it's because they have almost no voice and choice over policy and practice which leaves those teachers and their students un-empowered. Once again this situation points us in the direction of greater support for new and powerful administrative models in schools--models that empower both the administrators and the educators because that empowerment trickles down to students which is integral to teaching/learning success.

I too am preparing for a number of meetings with managers and administrators--people who have a lot of authority over the work I do each day with students. As I think ahead to those meetings, I want to be cognizant of the following questions and information:
  • What is your role? Understanding a manager or administrator's role is important. Often new managers and administrators are appointed, but no one really understands their role fully which creates lost opportunity.
  • What are your expectations? I want to know what these administrators and managers expect of me? 
  • What is your vision for students' experience of school and learning? What rationale supports your vision--why are you choosing what your are choosing?
  • What goals hold greatest priority and why? I want to know what these administrators and managers are prioritizing and why.
I want to work in concert with my colleagues, family members, students, and administrators and managers. I know there is great strength when we come together to work for the welfare of our students. Good conversations, understanding of roles, and prioritizing efforts can empower this work.

With regard to the story that started this post, it's best that we all steer clear of directives that are unrealistic even if they are research based. In the situation I relay, the best result would be for the administrator to create strong collaborative teams in that school, and then make the time to sit down with those teams to discuss the use of time and the needs of students. I know that this colleague is surrounded by dedicated professionals, and I know that their collective strength, intelligence, and experience has been lost in their current voiceless and choice-less school model. There is much opportunity and potential possible in that community, potential and possibility lost due to an administrative model that replicates old time factory models rather than new age knowledge models. I hope every administrator and manager reads this post and then re-looks at the way they are empowering and maximizing the intelligence, creativity, strength, and collaboration of their learning community including students, family members, educators, staff members, citizens, and administration.