Maybe it’s coming out of EduCon, maybe it’s because I’ve been doing some more speaking lately, maybe it’s just because I’m watching the evolution of SLA and really thinking hard about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, but lately, I’m thinking more and more about some of my own core beliefs about education… I’m noticing some new ideas cropping up in the things I talk about… and I want to explore one of those tonight.
For a long time, I would get frustrated when I would hear people talk about edu-speak buzz words, and I would get frustrated when people would claim that words like "student-centered," or "project-based" or even "constructivist" (as examples) were just empty words when they were words that held so much power and meaning for me. And I don’t think I understood how others could treat these powerful words as empty.
And, of course, the reason why is that, in so many schools, those words don’t have meaning because they are tied to nothing tangible. How many schools have a mission that says "We want our students to be life-long learners," but do not have anyone who can tell you what that practically means in the way the way people think about teaching and learning?
So I’ve come to believe that mission statements are meaningless unless people can point to where the pieces of their mission statement live in their school, then they are just words. Want to see what a school really values, I think there are a few key places to look to see what schools really value and believe.
Scheduling is one of the best pedagogical tools schools have, but too many high schools stay within that 45 minute class, eight-period day without ever asking what the underlying pedagogy of that kind schedule creates. But it’s not just how you schedule that shows what you value, it’s what you schedule. For example, one of the core underlying beliefs we share at SLA is the belief in the ethic of care as best written about by Nel Noddings… it is the belief that, at root, we need to remember we teach kids before we teach subjects. That’s why we have a four year advisory. That’s why every teacher is an advisor, why we make the time to have the class meet twice a week every week. What we schedule, we value.
Curriculum Planning / Professional Development:
This gets back to the idea of creating a shared language of teaching and learning in your school. I think we have to start looking at how schools share planning tools, work toward common goals in planning, and start using professional development time to look at big ideas in our classrooms, not just procedural questions or isolated lessons or teaching techniques. Not every faculty workshop is going to be about the big ideas, because there are those days when you have to work through the things you just have to work through, but how much better would our schools be if we all could see the three or four throughline themes that unified every meeting? How much better would our schools be if we all looked at our mission statements and asked ourselves, "How do the values of our school manifest themselves in our curriculum planning process?"
Again, how, what and why we choose to assess says a lot about what we value. If we want life-long learners, what are the assessments that value that? If we believe in collaboration as a goal, does handing out grades on a 100 point scale where kids can argue between what a 94 and a 95 means encourage that? Grading is, at the end of the day, a construct any way you slice it. How can we construct a grading system that reinforces what we want our schools to value. And if we don’t think about assessment this way, we should think about the message that is getting sent whether we want it to be or not?
In the end, that last line is the really key thing we need to remember. Every system and structure we have in our schools sends a message about what we value, whether we want it to or not. We should look at our mission statements, ask ourselves what we want our schools to be, and ask ourselves how the values and beliefs that we write about can live in every aspect of our schools.