Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Let's Do the Right Things, Not the Wrong Things Right

Can we change the system to do the right things, rather than continue to try to do the wrong things right?

It’s a long question essentially around the idea of change.  It resonated with me after reading an article by Will Richardson that really spoke to the “why” of what many of us are doing in our districts.  The title was "9 Elephants in the (Class)room That Should 'Unsettle' Us."

Forgive my random recounting of some of them.
  • We don’t remember what we learned in school.  I often joke that the things I most use that I learned in school are the ability to read, do arithmetic, and type.  Most other things I’ve picked up through experience.
  • Kids are bored and disengaged.  Content often isn’t relevant.  That’s why we have student engagement as a core tenant of our academic plan.
  • We teach in discrete blocks of time and subjects rather than integrating them so that kids can make the connections to get to deeper, longer lasting learning.  Remember the steps to mitosis or meiosis?  Even remember what the difference is?  Our current model doesn’t get us to deep learning.  We remember for a test and move on.
  • It's all about the GPA.  How many of us have had push back from parents when implementing standards-based grading?  The desire to be number one and heightened accountability have made our kids a series of numbers – GPA, ACT/SAT score, class rank.  It's like body measurements for high school kids.  Hey, my son is a 4.0 - 34 - 2 some parent might be saying.
  • The last one I want to mention is that we’re not assessing the stuff that really matters.  Especially on state tests.  It takes so long to get state test results they are meaningless.  Not assessing what matters and not getting timely feedback.  

I’m sure you can think of other elephants in the room and the article has another four.

I started my career in education as a math teacher and later taught science, which makes me tend to think in systems.  My innate desire is to put a process around most things and then improve through continuous improvement strategies.  Not everyone operates that way and it often has me challenging the status quo.  We can't get better by staying the same.  We've got to break past Newton's first law and get moving.

This requires change.  We hear change or become irrelevant.  We fear change because the unknown can be unsettling.  We stay in our comfort zones.  

We know we need to change, yet we’re afraid of it at the same time.  We ask ourselves what level of change can the board handle, the staff, the community?  The kids can handle it and are begging for it.  We get so caught up in our comfort zone that we can’t get to where the magic happens.

Schools are an institution built around tradition.  

Sometimes I think school is viewed more of a rite of passage than an active learning experience.  Millions of parents and grandparents went to school in much the same manner it is today.  We are slow to change, but have to do so if we are going to remain a viable institution.

As much as I like the neat little plan, the reality is the changes we need to make won’t be smooth. 

It’s going to be bumpy along the way and there will be setbacks.  We know from team development that whenever the members of a team or the task changes the team sees a dip in performance – hopefully only for a bit.

Many of my colleagues are involved in change efforts at some level.  Some are further along than others.  That’s why I engage with them.  Their ideas and support will help my students be more successful.

Sure we’re doing things in all the areas one would expect in today’s world, but I want to connect and learn with others so that the students I serve have the best opportunities we can provide.  I wish more were on the same path.

I’m afraid I see too many folks just managing their schools and not leading their systems forward.  Maybe they are comfortable that way.  Maybe they are afraid to push their communities.  Maybe they’re stuck in a rut.  

We hear all kinds of schemes that will supposedly be better for kids.  We know what we need to do and it’s pedagogical transformation.  It’s time for a change.  Our kids deserve better than us continuing to do what we know isn’t right.  Can we not change the system?

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