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Saturday, April 01, 2017

Out of the Loop: Curriculum Share

Discouraged by the addition of new units at this late point in the year, I looked back at my notes. Never, to my knowledge, were the new units explicitly shared via email though one was buried in notes I received. If others had told me that a replacement unit was included there, I would have taken a closer look. Instead I was preparing for last year's units--units I was looking forward to teaching and units that I spent considerable time obtaining supplies for and researching. Now I know that two out of the three have been replaced. I have the information, but not the supplies, for one, and the other is in the planning stage by those delegated to do the job.

So what's a teacher to do?

Over the past many years I've done significant work to forward STEAM and science learning and teaching. Almost every idea I've shared has not been responded to or embraced by curriculum leadership, yet I have received support from a local foundation and local naturalists. A few ideas expressed such as the need to include more STEAM were embraced many, many years after initially expressed and criticized.

I am chided often for writing too many emails. I write to advocate for good programming and new ideas, but my share and ideas are continually looked down upon.

Last year the children raised the endangered spade foot toads thanks to a generous grants from WPSF, SUASCO and Massachusetts Audubon. This grant afforded us naturalist visits, raising the toads, high school-elementary school naturalist share, and a wonderful wetlands conservation field trip. I had hoped this would become a regular, hands-on part of our curriculum--but we receive no support or interest in this trip from our curriculum leadership. It doesn't matter to them. Though when parents who volunteer as a part of a grant organization remarked favorably to the study, one curriculum leader then had a good word or two to say.

We begin the year with the exciting Global Cardboard Challenge. Students remark in their reflections that It's one of the best activities we do every year to build team and a sense of what it means to engage in STEAM, but that too is not embraced by the curriculum leadership. In fact, even when in the building, they don't make the time to visit the activity and watch the children's sense of creativity, excitement, and play.

Further, last year we had local naturalists come and talk to us about composting and living systems--that too is not embraced.

And, we have a school garden, and that too is not included in our systemwide science efforts in ways that are embraced and supported.

Instead, I have a large list of science explorations and activities chosen for me to teach--explorations that require substantial study, ordering, storage, and upkeep with only one few-hours professional share that didn't even include any direct work with the new units.

I am so discouraged about this, but will do what I'm told.

Why am I discouraged?

First, I'm discouraged because most of my share and ideas go disregarded--I rarely receive responses, and mostly any responses I receive criticize, question, and demean my ideas. It's clear my voice and choice is not welcome by the curriculum leadership. The only reason that I've continued to share is because the ideas I share and read about are well embraced by the world around me when it comes to teaching and learning, and the ideas that I've implemented with my team on our own have been well received and embraced by the students, their families, and other community members who are interested in the intersection of school STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art, and math) with the world around the school including natural lands and STEAM-oriented organizations. Some ideas I've been in favor of and contributed to include the following:
  • The integration of our efforts with the local environment including wetlands and conservation study.
  • Integration with high school science students such as guided nature walks and high school students' presentation of their work with land and animals such as their upcoming endangered local turtle share. 
  • The integration of our efforts with local organizations such as the virtual space exploration learning and study in conjunction with the McAuliffe Challenger Center, Gillette Stadium STEAM Exploration, and potential future study with Natick Labs.
  • The replication of ideas and models of learning forwarded by visits to and support from local museums such as the Discovery Museum and the Boston Science Museum.
  • Inviting local experts in to speak such as experts from the Grassroots Wildlife Conservation, Wayland Green Team and Wayland/Framingham Transition Team.s
  • Coordinating our science study with our school garden and composting efforts. Rather than buy a kit to meet the new composting standards, we could use the money available and time to work with creating and managing good composting to help make our school gardens more fertile.
  • Including coding, online research, and technology more in our efforts to learn about STEAM.
I see so many real-world ways to integrate STEAM into our daily teaching and learning, yet I don't have the time to teach all the curriculum imposed, curriculum noted in kits and print-outs, and also do the real-world, more meaningful study. I so wish there was an opportunity to work as a dynamic team with authority related to this work, but the only chance we have to be apart of these efforts is to follow tight protocols during selective summer work or after school. I don't even mind efforts like this, but when there's little room for creativity, the tasks become administrative or secretarial rather than professional and educational. 

It's clear that philosophically and educationally, my reading, research, and educational philosophy is different than many who lead curriculum efforts in my midst. As I write this, however, I also don't think that I know it all. What would be great would be an open, honest collaboration so that the best ideas and research from the entire team are honored, acknowledged, and used, but right now that's not the case.

I can't come home so often discouraged and demeaned as this zaps my energy and tires me out. I have to keep my energy high, focus strong, and investment rich so that I can teach the students well. I can do this without support, but it's more difficult to do with the constant silence, negativity and addition of new tasks at my back as this quiet, negativity and add-ons take time, energy--time and energy that can be well used for good work.

The best that I can think of right now is to do the following:
  • Keep aware of all share from curriculum departments, and do as I am directed.
  • Use respect and care with regard to all share. 
  • Continue to ask questions in writing when clarity is needed. There is often the need to ask for clarity. Just think if I didn't ask for clarity yesterday, I never would have learned of the new expectations.
  • Look through all materials given to me, and organize those materials in a place online and offline that's accessible. For example I reached out months ago to ask about changes in the curriculum, and only news of one potential change was expressed yet another change existed in a paper folder I was given. I didn't take a close look at the folder since no changes were noted, but I should have realized that there could have been changes in that folder that were not noted.
  • Be ready for change which is a constant.
  • Stop sharing new ideas with those who don't care, but continue to share the ideas with those who are willing to support those ideas such as the local grant organization, educators in the building where I work, families/students, and other science/math related organizations. 
  • Work with my local, state, and national union to forward models of teacher leadership and distributive leadership to help educators lead and have voice and choice in the profession. Recently our local union board added a new item to our contract that gives educators greater voice with regard to curriculum development and leadership. This is one step in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing how this committee work evolves with regard to what we can do to lead our work more in conjunction with system leadership.
In any organization, employees are going to see things in different ways, and when a teacher works in an organization that embraces a more hierarchical, top-down decision making management philosophy and program, he/she will have little say over curriculum directives. 

When I started working in the organization where I work many years ago, educators had substantial say over the work they do. Since that time, that voice and choice, particularly at the elementary level, have been greatly diminished. Administrators and decision makers have grown in numbers, while educators' freedom to make choices about the work we do has lessened. One administrator remarked that the scores have grown and that fact supports this kind of top-down direction, but I don't know if that data is correct, and would have to do a substantial study to understand the truth of this since numbers can be used in many ways to tell stories and prove points. 

This lack of inclusive voice and choice has been discouraging, and is the reason why I have reached out to many outside organizations to lift my teaching and teacher leadership knowledge and support--organizations like the Massachusetts Teachers Organization, National Education Association, local union board, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Wayland Public Schools Foundation, Massachusetts Audubon, MassCUE, ECET2, Framingham State University, and more. These organizations have offered me education, leadership training, opportunities to present and share my learning, collegiality, honest collaboration, new ideas, and positive energy. 

Some ask, Why do you stay in your organization with such little support beyond the building level (there is support at the building level)? I have stayed for many reasons including the following:
  • I have good colleagues, supportive building leadership, and a dynamic school
  • I have the materials I need to teach well
  • Families and students are wonderful
  • I can mostly teach well and reach for really good teaching and learning--the kind of teaching and learning I think every school should embrace. 
  • I earn a fair salary which affords my family a happy life.
The challenge remains, however, that I have to reach so deep every day to do this good work without the support of the many curriculum leaders in my midst--leaders who want to direct, but not collaborate--leaders who look down at my ideas, share, and efforts continually yet the scores are good, the children are happy, and the innovation substantial.

I'm not perfect. No one is, but I can't keep banging my head against the wall every time the lack of support becomes apparent which is about two to three times a month at specific meetings and via specific correspondence. Instead, as I noted below, I need to do the following with strength:
  • Follow the directives set as well as I can as long as those directives are not harmful to students.
  • Continue to seek the support of those that energize rather than demean.
  • Discontinue sharing ideas and perspectives with leaders who ignore, diminish, or disregard those ideas and perspectives.
  • Remain a learner, innovator, creator, and invested educator for the children and their families.
  • Continue to look for ways to collaborate respectfully with naysayers.
What surprises my close supportive friends and colleagues is that I continually expect change, when in some areas, the disinterest, negativity, and lack of support is a constant. They say, Why share as you're only going to be ignored or demeaned? They are right, and I will heed their advice in the days ahead. I believe this is one reason why so many of my colleagues are silent. One colleague, for example, who I admire whispered to me recently that she too had received chiding for speaking up at a meeting, and I heard another story about one more educator who also received disciplinary words for sharing her viewpoint at a meeting. This is discouraging and not what I believe in, but it is what happens in many schools, and one reason why the teacher leadership movement is taking root. 

Note there are other areas of school life that are dynamic and wholly positive and supportive. For example, recently I was apart of a meeting that was uplifting, informative, and energizing with regard to what we can do with and for students--the result of that meeting compared to the result of share that is ignored, demeaned, and diminished was substantial, and for those areas of school life, I am ever thankful.

It is difficult to write dissenting opinions and perspectives. No one wants to share the bad news or the hurtful truth they experience, however, this too is a part of the educational landscape, and to better what we can do as individuals and teams, we have to analyze the good and the not so good. I will continue to work to better this area of school life--since a most difficult event that occurred similar to what I experienced recently, I have read and learned a lot about this topic. I will continue to study, reflect, converse, and reach for betterment in this area in the days ahead. None of us are without our flaws and shortcomings, and all of us have something of value to share--the key is coming together with good intent, positive process, respectful allegiance, and effective effort to reach our collective best.

The troubling issues yesterday taught me important lessons, and now it's time to put those lessons to work as I continue to move down the teaching/learning road. Onward.