Sunday, October 27, 2013

It's electric! (Nope, not the popular dance!)

Hello, my name is Melissa and I have a strong personality.

There, I said me or leave me, it’s who I am.  Lots choose “leave me” – it’s easier there. 
I don’t give up, I don’t walk away, I fight for what I believe in and that can be a lot to take.  I’ve put blood, sweat, and tears into becoming a strong, confident woman & educator and won’t apologize about who I am (insert pity for my parents, kids, hubs, and colleagues here!).   

I have incredibly strong feelings about test prep.
I have incredibly strong feelings about homework and packets.
I have incredibly strong feelings about superficial learning.
I have incredibly strong feelings about every classroom looking the same way.
I have incredibly strong feelings about high stakes testing and truthfully most tests. 
I have incredibly strong feelings about being encouraged to use a script to teach from. 

Although there weren't many, I did have some incredible teachers who took the role of lead learner and provided remarkable, thought provoking, challenging classes – unfortunately it was at the college level.  Most of my elementary and high school years consisted of worksheets, rote learning, spit it out on a test; I remember most teachers’ names or a humiliating experience I had in their room, but that’s about all.  I won’t be that teacher.   

Since we, in New York, are now being encouraged to use state provided scripts (teacher says this, students do this) to teach from I feel like we’re in a bigger battle that we ever imagined and it terrifies me that many will sit back and accept it. Recently, I sat through hours of a PD meeting being talked at about how wonderful these things were, being shown videos of “exemplar teachers” teaching, etc.  I was floored how basic these ideas were, but even more how “rote” the lessons and videos were.  There wasn’t much innovation, nothing that I haven’t seen somewhere in my building or district.  But we have minimized education to watching videos and being handed scripts from state ed (did I mention the ELA are written by a “for profit”, education reform company?) and being coerced to believe that our kids are failing miserably because of scores on tests. 

We have minimized and demoralized public education and the knight in shining armor has become rote scripts, test prep, and scores.  If I may.....we are entering dangerous territory.

Administrators worry about how their building may look or are quick to compare building scores and put on bravado, the childish armor of confidence, when comparing their test scores to others rather than discussing and sharing how well their kids can solve problems, find solutions, or come up with their own intriguing questions.  Better yet, they could encourage conversation and provide time for professional sharing in classrooms. This “my scores are better than your scores” mentality serves only to compare, divide, and fragment our children’s education.  When scores are so heavily leaned upon they pit colleague against colleague; sharing and valuing ideas is diminished, and safety within collegial teams is destroyed.  After reading some work of Michael Fullan, I was struck by his quote, The four ‘wrong’ drivers (a policy and related strategies) are compelling on the surface, and have a lot of face-value appeal for people with urgent problems. They will be hard to dislodge. The politics will be fierce because leaders want immediate results, and are susceptible to what look like plausible solutions but turn out to be silver bullets.

When encouraging test prep and sameness, students lose out on an intrinsically motivating education, a place that encourages life learning, in and out of the classroom.  I have yet to meet a child who wakes up each morning excited to go to a classroom where it is scripted, test prep focused, and a superficial learning experience.  I was blown away a few weeks ago on the soccer field when a mom approached me and we continued what seems to be our weekly education talk.  She told me how things have changed so drastically with her kids in 5th and 2nd grade – they used to leap out of bed to get ready for school and bound off the bus at the end of the day to tell her of their packed, exciting days.  Now, they won’t get up in the morning and cry when they do, they beg her not to “force them” to go to school, and plead for her to home school them.....because school “used to be fun” and they hate being there now.  After school they’re packed down with hours of required rote reading, responding, and completing worksheets instead of being encouraged to create, build, explore, find out, and ask; in my opinion, all for the sake of a score.  My heart broke; it completely shattered to know that at 7 and 10 these kids think so little of themselves or of learning.  Kids who used to be so excited about school that they didn’t want to have weekends so they could learn more, kids who couldn’t wait to get back into the classroom to see what was next, now are begging their parents to keep them away from it.

Again, Michael Fullan addresses successful schools:  "Thus intrinsic motivation, instructional improvement, teamwork, and ‘allness’ are the crucial elements for whole system reform. Many systems not only fail to feature these components but choose drivers that actually make matters worse.

I will be the first to admit, I’m incredibly lucky to have the building administrator I have.  Believe me, it makes a huge difference to have the kind of support that I have.  I can whole heartedly tell you though, that when we no longer have him I still will be who I am.  I won’t change who I am for the wishes of those I work for if they’re unfounded or not based on reliable research – and yes, I will risk having a massive file of insubordination letters or disciplinary action, but I won’t sacrifice a child’s education or belief in themselves as a successful learner.  I am also incredibly blessed to have teammates that I trust completely; we are able to safely encourage each other to do what we know is best, share ideas and projects, support each other’s ideas and insights – they are invaluable to who I am as an educator.

As we worked on Friday on a student inspired unit on owls, grown from Poppy our current read aloud, the kids shared found information with each other.  While staying in given parameters, they were to come up with their own focus of study, some incredibly intriguing, ones that I couldn't have dreamed they’d come up with, let alone tackle; comparing size, location, and habitats of owls across the world, determine various speeds of flight and diving capabilities, in depth study of one specific owl, and anatomy of owls. (yep, I'm proud to say they're 8!)  I haven’t given a worksheet or a pre-printed anything – simply a pile of books, parameters they will have to work within, and a whole bunch of encouragement and excitement for learning.  The atmosphere has been electric and exciting.  They have “boo-ed” me when it has been time to go to recess and have come running around the corner at me in the morning to show me the map they printed or facts they learned at home – which weren't required.   I am teaching within the standards, but not within a bubble.  Will they “ace” the state assessments?  Maybe, maybe not.  But I won’t sacrifice the love and excitement of learning that happens every day in my room for a score earned over a few days.

As one student cleaned up on Friday, she turned, looked up at me with her big, beautiful eyes and said, “Learning is magical!”

“Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform”  Michael Fullan  2011 Centre for Strategic Education Seminar Series Paper No. 204, May 2011

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1 comment:

  1. You are magical Melissa! And as a parent of a child that hated going to school, ended up in the nurse's office everyday...I thank you from the bottom of my heart! My daughter tells me every day how amazing her day was!!!! We need more teachers, administrators like that. Keep fighting...we have your back! Strength in numbers. And thank you for being you!