Saturday, March 7, 2009

Trusting the teacher: Central to the Iowa Core

Just a random thought fleeting through me-

A good question to see the perspective of an educator is to ask "What things, if any, do we need to simplify for teachers?"

Some might use the question as a springboard for griping, which tells you something right away. Other practical individuals might mention any of a wide variety of items, be it classroom management, standards alignment, or that darn online gradebook.

The people who will impress me the most are the ones who say "Nothing. We need to continually diversify our thinking, give us more perspectives, challenge us."

Look at it this way. Let's say we asked "What things, if any, do we need to simplify for rocket scientists?" A little easier to say "nothing" in that case. Astrophysicists need to have the intellectual complexity and creativity to handle any wrinkle thrown at them.

Why aren't educators the same? They should be. With the implementation of NCLB, Iowa was the only state that put all of its eggs in one basket, trusting professional development as the key to improving student achievement. The theme said over and over was "Good teaching matters most."

The irony is, the way we package our programs sends the opposite message. Sir Ken Robinson highlights this in his new book The Element:

Too many reform movements in education are designed to make education teacher-proof. The most successful systems in the world take the opposite view. They invest in teachers. The reason is that people succeed best when they have others who understand their talents, challenges, and abilities. This is why mentoring is such a helpful force in so many people’s lives. Great teachers have always understood that their real role is not to teach subjects but to teach students (249).

Which is true. We have more and more drop-in-place programs used in education than general philosophies. Here is "math instruction in a box" or "classroom management in a box". Interesting that we know to interject complexities for students to help them realize their potential... we don't say to them "this is too tough for you, here's the simplified version". But, with teachers it is okay?

There's a lot of new change that comes in the Core, in content, instruction, and assessment. And it strikes me as odd the number of people who say, "This is too much for teachers... they can't handle this much change. We have to make things simpler." And, this comes from administrators and teachers alike.

For anyone who has been in the classroom (which excludes most of those clamoring for more scripted direct instruction, taking instructional decisions out of teachers hands), they know that the teacher makes thousands of instantaneous decisions each day. Words to say, who to call on, behaviors to address and avoid, connections to make, ways to diverge or converge thinking, and methods to assess. The teacher lives in this complex world all the time.

Therefore, we have to trust that the teacher can take all the complexities of the Core and make sense of them. We have to facilitate this with providing conversation, injecting questions, pushing back on their thoughts. But we can't come in and say "This is a tough part... we'll take it out of your hands." Even if teachers themselves ask for it.

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