So... I am going to tell you a story, and to me, it's EVERYTHING that is wrong with the American Education System
At about 11:30 today, my wife received an email from my fourth graders math teacher that went like this:
While we have been working hard in math this year, we will not be able to get through all of the 4th grade standards before Milestones. I would like for the students to have at least some exposure to the measurement standards that we will be learning about before Milestones. To make that happen, for homework over the next couple weeks students will need to watch videos and complete practice problems on Khan Academy. This will replace the spiral review worksheet that typically goes home. We will learn more about these measurement standards after Milestones.
I have attached the homework to this email so that you can take a look at it. This homework will be sent home this Thursday, and I will also post it to my blog. If students do not have access to a computer/iPad/internet at home, they are welcome to work on this at school in the morning or during catch-up time in the afternoon. Please email me with any questions!
Those of us that understand digital and blended learning know this is a viable learning option right? I won't speak to the viability of the actual math content (being a former history teacher and all), but this teacher should be allowed to explore and make a digital option right?
Well a parent pitched a small fit (some parents just want to be taught the same way they were), and the principal responded like this:
It has come to our attention that communication was sent home regarding fourth grade math instruction for fourth quarter. In order to ensure that every student receives effective and research-based instruction, your student will be participating in extra math classes during the school day. We will structure our day to focus on Reading, ELA, and Math instruction. Students will be afforded the opportunity to receive extra math practice and small group instruction during morning work time and during STEM activities including next Wednesday’s STEM activity, Measurement Olympics. We must make these necessary arrangements in order to effectively deliver instruction regarding each and every standard in mathematics.
Your child’s academic success is our top priority. We deeply apologize for any concern or inconvenience this has caused. We assure you that each and every math standard will be taught during the school day, with fidelity, and using the most effective instructional strategies. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Miss __________.
I have so many issues with this response, but above all, you are hanging one of your teachers out to dry for trying something new. I felt like I had to stick up for her. My response goes like this:
(I did have names in here, and I took them out. Part of me wanted to just burn it down with this principal, but I have a whole lot of years still left at this school. All the names have been replaced by what they are in parenthesis and italics)
After reading this email chain, I am very disappointed in (the schools) response. I am just going to come out and say it (the teacher) is right and (the principal) is wrong.
Education should not be all about the test. It should be about the students learning. I applaud (the teacher) for taking the time to get students to the point that they understand the concepts rather than flying through it all just to cover it. I have two students at (the school) with a third headed that way next year, and I genuinely believe my fourth grader has had one of the best educational experiences she has ever had at (the school) this year.
All (the teacher) is trying to do is blend the content with a digital option. That is absolutely a viable way of teaching. Frankly, what she is doing is better practice then the assigned time's students get on platforms like "Moby Max" every day. (the teacher) improved on that by having follow-up and extra time to cover that content.
As an Education Technology Specialist who works with multiple school districts, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that a blended digital method can be useful instruction. In fact, I think it is a welcome change to what our students are getting with regular classroom instruction at (the school). In her message, (the principal) states that these standards will be taught with "effective instructional strategies" I question that statement because, from my history with (the school), that seems like it might just be more worksheets.
For the parents reading this and who are upset about (the teacher) email just get ready for high school. I am a former high school history teacher and trying to find digital methods to make sure we hit everything is standard practice. The standards are so overstuffed with things that finding enough classroom time to cover ever standard and get the kids actually to learn it is next to impossible. Having a digital option helps them get to where they need to be for the standardized test.
I have been in education for a while now, so I recognize that the school is judged off of those test scores. For once, can we do what's best and let a teacher get students to a point where they understand the content? In the end, they will probably get better scores anyway because they can do the content that the teacher did cover.
(the principal) decision here is a rash one that does not happen in other districts. In (a district I work closely with), they are inherently focused on personalized learning, and they would embrace a digital option as a way to learn. I can not speak to (the teacher) choice of content (being a former history teacher and all), but the best response should be how can we make that digital option the best that it can be. If a student just can't do that digital option, (the teacher) already said she would work during every other time to make sure students get what they need. I wish (the school) would embrace a teacher that is trying something a little different rather than responding in this way. If they did, we might have something better then classrooms filled with worksheets.
Let's just say I am so done with this principal. A principal that does not embrace creative ideas and innovation is the worst type. The fact that she hung this teacher out with parents is downright offensive. This just means we have to keep fighting the good fight so these people don't ruin it for kids. If this is constantly done to teachers who are trying to be creative, the American Education system will continue to struggle to keep up. Creativity is everything in teaching. Please don't kill it.
How do we change professional development to be personalized, equitable, and effective? It's something that has come to the front of my mind through all my travels. What we have right now doesn't check off all of those boxes at once, and because it doesn't, we are always throwing new things at teachers. What if we changed that? What if we took the best of what's out there PD wise and created a paradigm shift? It's possible we just need to have a group that helps lead the districts to water.
When you boil it down, the American teacher tends to have one of 6 different PD experiences. None of them are significant. Most suffer from being one-time training while others just lack the "stickiness" for sustained instructional change.
My thought is this could all start with a district PD day. What if we turned them into goal setting sessions? They could start off with an inspiring keynote that shows what some are doing and what they could strive for. Teachers would then move into a work session. Each work session is aligned with broad goals that are proven improvements to the class experience and are run by a facilitator who is an expert in the area. These aren't presentations. Teachers are given a vast library of resources and time to work on what works for them, their class, and their content. The facilitator is a coach to help them over any bumps they might encounter.
Those could include things like:
The digital platform can be used to learn the nuts and bolts of tools and resources that can help reach that goal. The digital platform can include but not be limited to district-based tools such as devices, learning management systems, and office suites. The digital platform also becomes your touchstone before the next district PD day as it will be issuing micro credentials for every training finished and goal accomplished.
When teachers get to the next district PD day, it becomes a goal check-in. If they reached their goal, it's time to do the process again with a new goal. If they did it, but they were not consistent, a coach is there to support them in any way to move to consistent. If they did nothing to get to that goal, a coach is there to see if a new goal can be set or if they figure out the pain points that stopped them.
Think about what this would do. If we are consistently moving every teacher just one positive step forward, educational change will happen quickly. It gives teachers ownership which can help bring back the creativity that is everything to the learning experience. It also simplifies the job of administration. A teacher would have one goal that they set, and if they are not even trying to get there, administrators know there is a problem.
In the end, this is all about moving teaching forward. What we are doing now isn't working. Let's simplify and personalize!