Fads and Fetishes; Choices and Committments
“These people drop every ball they pick up.” –A Beloved Former Colleague, speaking about our administration
How many ideas do you think there are for improving the academic achievement of low-income, minority students?
Nevermind…It’s too many. Let’s make it smaller. How many ideas do you think there are for doing vocabulary work before a difficult reading? (Then multiply these ideas by a differentiation factor.)
How many ideas are there about the best student data to track and how to track it? (Dear Lord, how we go round and round on this one…) How should students be grouped? How often should I call parents, since they’re the ones who made this mess in the first place? What is the best way to prepare for a Socratic seminar? What is a Socratic seminar?
What is the best way to write an objective? Do I need to have a content standard and a skill standard written out on the board every day? Do I need to assess them both every day? How could I even be sure I was doing that? How can we use graphic organizers to best affect student learning? How detailed a calendar do I need and for how many weeks in advance? Do students need to read, write, and speak every day? Do I assess all three? And record it…where?
How long will I have to say “Action Plan”? Has anybody seen my SMART goals around lately…from August? No?
You see where I’m going. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ideas out there about how to accomplish dozens of distinct educational objectives. And they seem to grow exponentially. And some of them have more money behind them than evidence.
But let’s say, just for argument’s sake, that they are all effective. However, like anything, they can only be effective if they are given a fair chance. And they can’t all be done at once. If teachers are to really make use of a good idea they need to have time and support. They need to feel free to make mistakes, ask questions and experiment.
At my school we are expected to implement every good idea, or at least the Idea of the Month, right away and completely. The implementation phase of new directives at my school goes something like this: Here…I gave you a PowerPoint where the type was too small to read and we talked about it twice for a total of almost an hour. This is now your new way to do lectures. Go.
These begin to pile on, month after month. Nobody knows where the ideas come from…though sometimes it is said they come from The Research or The Data. Maybe so or maybe not. I think they mostly come from Websites.
But it doesn’t matter because 9 times out of 10 the Idea of the Month at my school is forgotten in two month’s time. Two months is the Gold Standard. Nobody can possibly keep up with either doing it all or enforcing it all. So what happens?
Here’s what: New people freak out and realize they cannot possibly win or make the lady happy. And they quit. Like I’ve said before, I make it a point to keep up with the young’ns. It’s the end of the semester…and they have the resume polish out; no doubt. The few who have been around for a while recognize that they can ignore…completely…a great deal of what comes out of any administrator’s mouth. So they do. And they carry on for better or worse.
This is not because the ideas are bad. It it because the administration can’t make choices or make and stick to a plan. So where does that get us? It doesn’t get us very far. It gets us 30-50 new teachers next year who we can piss off and freak out; who then quit.
But what if we learned how to make choices and stick with a plan? What if we picked four big things and decided that, as a school, our teachers are going to become awesome at these things? What if…what if teachers were included in the process of selecting these things? What if we really stuck to these things, brought in good PD, and didn’t get sidetracked by all the other ideas that sound so magical? Those other ideas are so enticing and the New Leaders PowerPoint you just saw had such good color contrast with cool fades that were not even annoying. It’s so hard to resist.
As someone who knows, I can tell you that this is a big frustration among new teachers in the hyper-reformist environment. It’s a big reason why they leave this school. They feel like they absolutely cannot succeed.
Set priorities. Stick to them. Hold teachers to them. Have confidence in your priorities so that you won’t be tempted to fuck around with everything you do every other week. Don’t demand more shit than you can keep track of.
If you set realistic goals for your staff and support them, they will succeed and maybe even stay. Then you won’t have to start from goddamn ground zero every year. Aren’t you sick of that?