Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Community of Teachers

Can I share how nice it was to sit down with colleagues to talk about people rather than programs?

Too often, education entombs itself in discussions of programs: Study Island, Math in Focus, Vocabulary Workshop, Singapore Math, Lindamood Bell, Holt-McDougal, Pearson, et al. Everyone is producing programs which often justify themselves with jargon such as "clinical research and experience indicate..." Sometimes "program" is simply a synonym for curriculum.

Teachers end up in training or self-contained meetings discussing curriculum and programs. We focus so hard on what is contained inside of our curriculum buckets that we completely disregard looking through the windows which have always been in front of us. 

We talk curriculum and program so much that we forget to talk about people. Sometimes we make decisions based on what is easier for us to manage and assess--ergo the birth of the purple unicorn aka the five paragraph essay--rather than what we know is good and true and valuable for our kids.

A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to spend the day with three colleagues and a guest to discuss writing. Over the course of six hours we read and discussed four articles: Teach Writing as a Process Not a Product, by Don Murray; Assessing With the Heart, by Vicki Spandel; On Getting Lost, Finding One's Direction, and Teacher Research, by Jerome C. Harste and Christine Leland; and Chapter 4: Common Characteristics of Writing Workshop, by Donald Graves.

We shared what we did in our classrooms. We questioned ideas. We asked for help.

Our discussions were built on research and evidence in addition to the realities of our classrooms and our students.

The best indicator of our growth was when we began to question and challenge the group with what-ifs about people:

  • I agree with what the research says, but how do I help this specific student?
  • I like this idea, but can I do it? Can I let go of x?
  • What if we do x, but it doesn't affect every student?
  • How would I help this student if I did x with these students?

We found a shift. We stepped outside of the shallow curriculum bucket. Our answers were not in a product or a program, the answers are around us. And the answers are beautifully incomplete--and never will be mastered--because we are talking about people. And people change. Numbers don't change. Words don't change. People change.

In that meeting, we valued people over programs.

This is not to dismiss the value of programs. No one in the right mind would bash the idea of a curriculum. However, we need to step outside from the safety of our houses. Growth in education should be messy and challenging and collegial. Sometimes we are a neighborhood of teachers who  build fences and ignore the importance of being an active part of our community. We should be learning and trying things together rather than individually burying ourselves inside of programs and products.

And, quite honestly, this only happens if we talk through more than one lens. Attending conferences, workshops, visiting classrooms, reading education journals--getting outside of our own houses and experiences--opens up the conversation. We welcome the community and the community welcomes us.

And the more we talk about what we see other teachers do or what we heard other teachers say or what we read others write, the more likely we are to talk about people and value people over programs. When we do, we truly become a community of teachers more than a neighborhood.

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