Monday, June 23, 2014

Take a Risk

"Good morning, class.  Today, our objectives are to prepare for our state test.  We will be going over some test-taking strategies and reviewing all of the standards we have studied so far this year.  Please take out your textbook and turn to page 52."

When I was a student, I heard this.  Today, it can still be heard.  Not because teachers WANT to teach this way.  They do this because they FEEL they HAVE to teach this way.

With today's accountability, risk-taking has been diminished.  Test scores, teacher evaluation, and new standards have driven schools and teachers to limit their creativity because of the scripted environment the state and legislation has made us promote.  Our teachers are inspiring, creative, motivated individuals who got into this profession to help children achieve and succeed in an environment that promotes thinking, questioning, problem-solving, and creating.  Why do we succumb to the wields of this accountability?

Before I continue on, I do need to stop and reflect on this.  We are NOT doing anything wrong.  We are doing what we CAN do and what we have been told is best under the constructs provided by the state.  We want our students to do well on this test, and we are doing the best we can to prepare them for it!  I am going to be the first to admit that I have attended workshops and trainings on how to raise test scores and actually put together programs in schools to do just that.  When the state says you are a failing school and they are visiting to see what accountability actions you are taking, you do what the state is telling you to do to raise those test scores.  And, test scores do go up, school "grades" do go up, and in looking around the school, we have become a testing factory.  But, I say, it is time to take a collective stand and not allow these state mandates determine what we know is best for students.

Start taking risks and doing what we know is best for kids.  The "scores" will come if we strive for higher than what the mandated standards say.  And let's face it, test scores do NOT determine the success of our school if we are celebrating and sharing all the fantastic things going on in them!  Our teachers will not have to think twice about a teacher evaluation system because they are already utilizing the best practices to push our students to higher levels.  Know the outcome you want from students and go after it!

Last week, the PATINSProject director, Daniel McNulty, gave the example of the 175 vs. 5 concept.  Many times, we dictate our instructional practices, curriculum, and differentiated techniques because of the 5 state testing days we have in the school year, all because every child takes the same test and not allowed many accommodations and modifications we know are best for students to show their learning. Why should we change what we know is best for kids for just 5 days of testing?  We cannot let the 5 days dictate what we do with the other 175.

On top of it all, no child is average.  Daniel also shared this absolutely fascinating video.  Yes, it is 18 minutes, but well-worth every second.  I especially love the first 5-8 minutes, as this is really the heart of his message.

Todd Rose explains that despite it all, no one is average.  Everyone is different, requiring different instructional methods and different means for showing their knowledge and abilities.  We need to "nurture individual potential". We are in a position to say enough is enough.  We have read, studied, and worked endless hours to make sure our students are getting the very best and we know what kinds of instructional practices should be implemented in our classrooms.  No longer do we force test prep upon our students, which many times is the one-size-fits-all approach.

From this point, I pledge to take risks as a principal, encourage risk-taking in the classroom, so teachers feel the freedom to try new approaches and can meet every child where they are.  If no child is average, then we have to approach every child individually.  I challenge teachers to take risks, try new methods and approaches, allow questioning and creating.  Allow redos and retakes because we KNOW that is where the real learning will happen.  Build individually-paced projects and tasks so that each child can grow at his/her rate, not the rate of what we claim is "average".

I encourage my staff to continue to be the most AMAZING staff around, take risks, be creative, and then only the sky is the limit!

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