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Monday, October 17, 2016

Key Instructional Words: Specialization and Integration

I think the words "specialization" and "integration" are two very important words at this turn in the education path.

For example, now that I'm mostly teaching math rather than teaching the entire 5th grade curriculum, I have much more time to teach better. In the past, I spent a lot of time figuring out how to fit it all in, and the brain changes demanded as I moved 25 students quickly from one topic to another was exhausting. Now, not only do I have more energy, depth, creativity, and success with my lessons, but the students are more inspired too because they get to learn from three teachers who profit from less breadth and greater depth with teaching.

Too many initiatives stay stuck due to a lack of specialization at the elementary school level. For example every teacher is learning to be STEAM teachers and the process is very s l o w. it's slow because it simply takes great concentration, time, materials organization, and learning to promote a tip top STEAM center and approach. It would be better if we had a small team of teachers devoted to STEAM. STEAM is my second focus and if I had a small team at school to develop that focus with, we could move mountains and truly empower STEAM teaching.

As we look at the progression of school culture, structure, roles, and schedules, we have to take the power that specialization brings to the elementary school seriously. When teachers have a chance to specialize, they can teach with greater depth and care.

Yet, you might say, high schools and middle schools have had specialization for a long time, and many say that's too diluted, disconnected, and not representative of good teaching today. That's why my second important word is "integration." Elementary school teachers always integrated subjects into meaningful units of study that inspired students, and it is a problem that there's not enough rich integration at many middle schools and high schools.

To focus on specialization and integration at the same time requires a team approach. This kind of approach has been long used at the middle school in the teaching/learning community I work in. They have "houses" where teachers work together to teach all students well. Our team has recently started a similar shared model at our school. With this model at fifth grade we specialize and we integrate. We specialize as each teacher takes the lead for two subject areas and students rotate from class to class. We integrate as we plan signature events, promote field studies and Team days, and work to improve and develop the teaching/learning program in a cohesive, collaborative way.

This model is terrific, and with even greater support, the model will continue to grow with strength. Some are still reluctant to support the model with their efforts and that's a bit of an obstacle we face. Others, however, provide tremendous support for the model and that's been terrific.

How do you both specialize and integrate in your role and system? How do you allow specialization and integration to make the learning days more meaningful and successful for all students and educators? Do you use a team approach to promote greater specialization and integration? And, does this team approach allow you to teach with greater collaboration, less isolation, and more success? I'm curious.