During my time in education, our focus in schools has changed dramatically. While our main wheelhouse has always been academics, the laser focus on teaching and learning has never been sharper. In the “old way” we focused largely on intuition to figure out if kids were learning. Now we utilize data to ascertain if a student is not only reaching “grade level” but also where on the continuum he is landing. We take that data from numerous sources and plan for our next stage of instruction. Our teaching doesn’t drop in the middle anymore; it lands at numerous instructional points so that we differentiate instruction, (defined by educator Carol Ann Tomlinson), by varying content, process, product, and the learning environment.
However, this shift is not without its consequences – to shift one’s teaching in this way is difficult. The importance of utilizing regular, natural formative assessment to guide our practice is crucial in knowing our students and understanding the next step of instruction. No longer is our expertise only grounded in content knowledge. We need to be experts at pedagogy.
We are also asking teachers to make the shift while opening their classroom doors and student rosters so that their colleagues can share the load. This is a cultural adjustment that can be large even for the very effective teachers I work with daily. We are trying to shift from professionals with friendly, caring, and supportive relationships to teachers who also share best practice with each other and at times, even the responsibility for teaching each others’ students.
I feel the stress in my building as we shift a bit faster and a bit harder. Am I doing what I can as a leader to soften the blow a bit?
The 50-ish staff members at Harold Martin are essentially my classroom. I can confidently say I care about them more than any administrator could but sometimes that’s not enough. Pressures from the Common Core, a new math program and approach, technology expectations, more challenging students, and a fresh approach to reaching students who are struggling, via RTI (Response to Instruction)…that’s a full boat. It’s not just the number of initiatives – it’s the ability to see how they are interrelated and relevant to each other. It’s communicating the vision and finding the message that will ring true to the staff that the effort they are putting in makes a difference. It’s finding victories to celebrate and opportunities to laugh. It’s the leader convincing the teachers that he too is struggling with them and the “juice is worth the squeeze”.
Do you have practical suggestions on how to support the shifts in your life?