Turning Points

Everyone seems to be recognizing the necessity of alignment and clarity. Educational movements, these turning points in reform, always come with a certain amount of conflict, confusion, and even a lack of organization and focus. A recent article in Vanderbilt’s Peabody Reflector provides a very thorough overview and analysis of the Common Core implementation and the difficulties being faced five years into this reform. Add to this, today, the fact that change is occurring at a rate difficult to keep pace with, and the fact that conversation regarding these changes is open to all who take a moment to voice a thought. The way can seem muddied and without direction.

I’ve struggled with this feeling of whelm for a few years now. National Standards for Social Studies, Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core implementation, and 1:1 iPads followed implementation of Smart Boards, Google Docs, and a realization that my classroom was becoming more and more diverse and therefore demanded greater and greater adaptability and innovation on my part if I were to meet the needs of my students. But it isn’t with complaint that I reflect on the anxiety that this much newness can bring about. I think it is important to recognize and accept the struggle in order to address it--and maybe even turn that journey into one of happiness and celebration.

What’s less clear sometimes is trying to make sure all of the curriculum aligns with the standards being written. It is wrong to assume that just because a text comes stamped with a shiny gold label asserting Common Core, that the materials within are quality--let alone meet the actual standards. And, as is often the case, when teachers are creating units of study for varied learners it is even more important to ascertain that this work is meeting the standards of the school, the state, the nation. Add to this, the multitude of technological tools that we are integrating, and…

Haruka Kojin, 'Contact Lens' Exploring new theories and ways of seeing.

It’s a good time to remember the need for focus.

Standards are important--they unify and establish a common bar to be met. Training teachers to implement those standards in positive ways is crucial. So, I found the need to spend some of my summer thoroughly reviewing my state’s Common Core standards, comparing those to the national standards for each of the subjects that I teach, and walking myself through my year’s curriculum to assess how what I taught compared to these expectations. Of course I found discrepancies--I expected to. The next step is to makes decisions as to how to address these “holes”.

Here is where I see the need for caution. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to meet a standard, or include the latest technological gadget. Schools must have a plan to liberate their teachers to be more than these standard because as Grant Wiggins says, “The point of school is not to get good at school.” The point is to create students who are autonomous in solving real world problems. Wiggins advocates: everything in our schools should be aligned—the mission, curriculum, response to personnel issues, response to students, administrative walk-throughs, and certainly professional development.

Recently I read Unmistakable Impact, by Jim Knight and Wiggins’ point reminded me of aspects of Knight’s work. Knight argues that a school’s improvement plan should be clearly written on one page—too many initiatives and they get lost. The strategies should be easily understood by the whole school community—administrators, teachers, parents, and students. If not, the school isn’t focused enough to experience real impact. How many times have we heard people, even teachers, speak of educational reform with little confidence in its outcomes. Both Knight and Wiggins would hold that the reform is not the issue, it’s the implementation.

I started this summer with a number of professional goals that I wanted to accomplish: review my gradebook, reflect on the success of my units and lessons, review standards and Common Core and compare it to my school’s standards, and, well, that just about affected all the rest. It’s easy to get lost in the myriad of tasks that I want to accomplish and it’s just as easy to get lost in all of these standards. But in resolving myself to take a close look at the standards brought a way for me to organize my goals for the coming year. I found that the kaleidoscopic settled into a clearer view.

Wiggins provides one sensible method of focusing school initiatives by tying everything together through a backwards design approach using the school’s mission. And it’s a good reminder to set filters on all of the agendas set before me and create a one page mission for the year. I have done this in the past and have recently taken up the practice of sharing this theme with my students by creating a visual representation of it and posting it on the door to my room. To have that theme fit the mission of the school makes even more sense and helps to bring not only my practices, but those of my students, into harmony.

“In all the political grandstanding and rhetoric, I think we are forgetting the common goal of all this, which is to prepare our children to become powerful leaders, inventors, explorers, innovators and role models. These children will soon be adults who will influence our country and the world—and it’s our job to pull together and get them there.” Barbara Stengel, Directory of Secondary Ed, Peabody College.

When our students walk into our classrooms in these opening weeks, and all the weeks that follow, we must stand secure knowing that what we teach and how we teach does not supersede who we teach and why we are, all of us, here: to be the powerful leaders, inventors, explorers, innovators, and role models in the world in which we live. With this focus, all of the standards and tools at our backs only empower us to do what we have been gifted to do. Teach.

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"Each of us must become impassioned, finding meaning and self-fulfillment in our own life's journey." Alexandra Stoddard

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