Sunday, July 16, 2017

Teach Well: Responding to Top Down Directives

Many educators today work in top-down teaching/learning hierarchies. In those structures, educators have little voice and choice over what they do. This tears at educator autonomy, mastery and purpose—three attributes that Daniel Pink demonstrates to be critical to optimal performance in his book, Drive. Pink writes, “Control leads to compliance, while autonomy leads to engagement.” and “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more. . .”

So, in light of Pink’s research and the fact that many educators have little or limited voice and choice in schools since top-down hierarchies persist, how can educators work to change these unfortunate and oppressive work environments so they can do the inspired work needed to teach all children well.

I looked to the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards guide, What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do, for direction. I also thought about the teaching environment where I work to gain a specific lens in this regard. As I consulted these two resources, I clearly noticed that I need to better utilize good research and evidence to advocate for greater teacher leadership, choice and voice in schools, and that the NBPTS guide is one way to do that.

As I looked closely at the propositions and thought of Pink’s words above, I recognized that many who direct our work from above don’t understand the role that engagement plays in good teaching and learning. Pink points out that autonomy leads to engagement, and when educators “manage and monitor student learning” with autonomy and collaboration, engagement for both students and educators soar. This is critical to good teaching and learning as the NBPTS guide supports, “Accomplished educators therefore focus significant attention on developing strategies to promote student interests and monitor student engagement.” When top-down directives are thrust upon educators, often teacher and student engagement is a missing component of those directives, and educators must work to remind and inform those who direct their efforts that it’s imperative that autonomy exist so that teachers can continually create, craft, and develop optimal teaching/learning experiences that engage students.

Collaboration and Communication
Another area that top-down directives often forget is the tremendous potential that exists when the lines of communication and share are open amongst and between educators. Too often directors who have little contact with students or teachers may manage the message rather than supporting the free-flow of communication of ideas, practice, analyses and next steps. The NPBTS guide supports collaboration as illustrated in this statement, “Accomplished educators thus enlist a wide range of support—from students, teachers and paraprofessionals to family and community members—to provide their students with instructional opportunities that will augment their learning.”

Top-down systems often miss or deny the fact that education is an evolving, not static, proposition. That’s why NBPTS Proposition 4: Teachers Think Systematically about Their Practice and Learn from Experience is so important. It is critical that educators utilize time and good process to systematically evaluate and develop the work they do utilizing informal/formal assessments, research, collaboration, and creativity. Too often that work is done for educators without utilizing their input or ideas. When this happens, educators’ confidence and capacity is compromised, and the teaching/learning does not reach the potential possible. At times, administrators and other decision makers may rely more on efficiency than efficacy when it comes to choosing for educators, and this often represents a troubling, downward spiral of education events.

As I think of my own experience as an educator and the body of research I attend to related to teaching and learning, I know that a focus on engagement, collaboration/communication, and evolution is one way to begin to advocate for greater teacher leadership, voice and choice with regard to elevating our practice to serve all children well.