If we truly want to
bring about transformative change, we must begin by changing the way we think about what we do.
What does it say about
the importance of relationships between teachers and students when we sever a
student’s relationship with a teacher who cares about them, just because it is the
end of a school year? What is the impact on a child when we move them ahead to
material for which they lack perquisite understanding and, with the same stroke
of a pen, separate them from a teacher with whom they feel both important and safe?
When we collect practice assignments and go over the mistakes students make, are we
able spend as much time as we know we should with the kids who struggle most?
Are we even allocated enough time for such a purpose? Should it be an
Does it really make
sense to administer a chapter test to a child whose practice assignments suggest
they are likely to fail? What would contribute more to our students’ long-term success: giving them more time to learn or
by recording a “D” or an “F” in our gradebooks and then moving them on to the
How far behind do
students fall before they give up and stop trying? When we move kids along
faster than their pace of comprehension and gage their performance against that
of classmates, have we set them up for a pattern of failure that will follow
them throughout their lives?
An athletic team can
come from far behind to win a game or turn a losing season into a championship,
and we celebrate not only their victory but also what they had to overcome. Do
we give kids in the classroom the same opportunity to catch up and learn? Do
we provide them with an equal opportunity to prove themselves winners?
For decades, teachers
were expected to teach a diverse group of children in the same classroom; kids
who were at different ages, with different life goals, and were at varying stages
of academic development. Did we change the way we teach because what we were
doing was proven to be ineffective, or did we change because it was perceived
to be inefficient?
How many more things
do we do with the kids in our classrooms that make little or no sense when we
stop and think about them? We have taught kids the same way for generations
because of tradition, even when results gave us reason to question our
Everything we know
about early childhood
development tells us that
development follows an identifiable pattern but, also, that kids develop according
to their own unique timetable. Are academic standards and
curricula crafted around the way kids learn and develop or do they reject differentiation.
Students of a given age are expected to advance down the same generic pathway,
moving from one benchmark to the next, as a group, at the same relative speed.
If they do not, schools and teachers are held accountable.
achievement by comparing the performance of some kids to the performance of
others rather than making sure they are each touching their essential bases. Imagine
how it work if we treated early childhood development the same way we treat
learning in school. Imagine labeling kids as slow because they did not roll
over, crawl, walk and talk as quickly as their siblings.
There is a price to be paid when circumstances disrupt childhood development. Could the same thing be true when a child’s academic development is disrupted because there is too little time for kids to learn and for teachers to teach? Even under adverse circumstances, the brain will strive to learn, relentlessly. Do we help the brains of our students or do we get in the brain’s way?
While it may make
sense to keep kids of a certain biological age together, is there any research
to justify holding them to the same expectations as their classmates with
respect to academic standards, development and achievement?
Far too many young men and women are leaving school only to discover their choices are limited. What does it say about what we do when the regimen through which we guide our students serves to limit rather than expand their range of choices? Could it be that the same thing has happened to educators? Have their perceptions been forged by traditions and practices that serve to discourage rather than reward divergence.
The problem when we are
taught to “think alike” is that we end up “thinking alike.” How well does what
we do for kids in classrooms prepare kids to enter a dynamic world that rewards
broader rather than narrower visions? What
if we could do better?
Do you believe in your
hearts that all kids will be successful next year or the year after next if
only you work a little harder and give more of yourself?
What if disappointing academic
achievements occur not because of our inability to teach and not because of our
students’ inability to learn? What if unacceptable outcomes are a consequence
of an education process that impedes and constrains rather than enables and supports the efforts
of teachers and students?
What are you willing
to do, differently?