Changing the Way We Think about what We Do?

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 expectation?

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 next lesson?

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 effectiveness.

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.

We evaluate 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?

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