Still, I know enough to know that purposeful change, especially on a larger scale, requires small, incremental changes done at an in-depth level, with constant examination. Buy-in and feedback from an involved sect of the community doesn't hurt either.
The arrival of the Common Core and PARCC seems to have brought a goulash of changes, at least in my district, smattered here and thrown in there, all done (perhaps not with intention) in haste. This 'get it done' mentality, with a seeming emphasis on quicker results, no matter how well-intended, is a set up for long-term failure and disappointment. Unfortunately, this 'get it done' approach, with not enough consideration for all the gears, cogs, and components involved, has a trickle-down effect on the various branches within a district's educational system.
Three hours of professional development in a new math curriculum (for example), with quarterly and barely contextualized follow-up meetings (not to mention progress monitoring assessments that don't fully align with the curriculum) is not my idea of truly helping students reach and master higher standards. Clearly, some of this lack is linked to insufficient resources. Not every district can afford to have a dedicated math coach at every school, a singular but important component. But surely these resources can be utilized more efficiently and 'fairly'.
True, we teachers are the first to quote that 'fair isn't always equal'. Some classrooms have a higher percentage of SES students, students with specific learning disabilities, or a greater ELL population; some teachers have less experience or are less comfortable implementing a new curriculum.
Teachers have a professional responsibility to ask for help if needed, but there's the 'solo-dolo zone' that so many of us get caught up in too often; the feeling that we must learn and accomplish and teach all on our own, without any outside help; or, we like things a certain way (stereotypical type A) and might just hyperventilate with too much interference. These mindsets should be thrown out the window - easier said then done, right? I'm guilty, yet I know in my heart that this is the case.
That being said, professional responsibility is not a one-way street. Coaches (to use just ONE example) must also recognize that in order to determine need and where their assistance can have the most impact, they must GET into the classroom. I'm not referring to a benchmark testing meeting in the beginning of the year, and the occasional e-mail to extend assistance that doesn't really materialize. I have seen teachers reach out more than once on the same issue via e-mail, with no real physical response or follow through from said coaches. Teachers should not be expected to chase down a paid and available source of professional help.
In my most humble opinion, I believe coaches (math and other content) must double their efforts to make their way into EVERY classroom, even if just once, to observe a lesson - whether the teacher is altogether comfortable or not. They must observe with an unbiased eyes the classroom environment, the teacher's style, etc., and determine if and how their assistance could be of use.
Does the teacher need additional content knowledge? Make suggestions, provide material or online resources, or set up a district-wide online training tutorial covering necessary math concepts. Is it more appropriate pedagogical strategy that could be applied? Offer to come in and teach and model a great lesson or center; have the teachers be the observer and learn as much. Is the teacher lacking resources? Reach out to the principal or other district contacts to help that teacher get the appropriate materials.
As a professional educator, I am in no way looking to offset my responsibility to do what is best for my students. But there are so many roles and resources that are under- or poorly-used, and often it's under the umbrella excuse of too little time.
But real results require TIME and smart effort. There are solutions amidst all the seeming upheaval and chaos, if we stand still long enough to truly consider our actions and the consequences and then COLLABORATE (all parties - not just a chosen few) on solutions. Do we really want to help our students grow in academics, or are we simply putting this and that into place because it looks good on paper and satisfies state and federal requirements?
This is a topic of timeless importance and ironic urgency. I will continue to explore my thoughts (and others!) in coming posts.
“It is never enough…to teach a child mere information…What is essential is to train the mind so that it is capable of finding facts as it needs them, train it to learn how to learn.” - Eleanor Roosevelt