Schooling Magazine

It's All About Getting Better

By Mrsebiology @mrsebiology
Picture I think it's been firmly established that real learning for students requires work, struggle, and a growth mindset on their part.
But so does real teaching. I've said this before; I've lived this reality in my 18 years in the classroom with thousands of students.  To some teachers putting in the extra time and effort comes as second nature, and they constantly seek to improve, to try, to refine, knowing that things may not always turn out exactly as planned - but they learn what they can and move on.  They don't stagnate where they're at - these teachers moving forward at all times have developed a habit of continuous sustainable improvement, always working on getting better at their practice.  And that habit takes a lot of time and effort outside of the classroom.  
It's that type of continuous professional improvement effort on the part of all educators-teachers and administrators alike- that's needed to move schools forward. As Levin and Fullan state in their 2008 article Learning about system renewal: 
"Large-scale, sustained improvement in student outcomes requires a sustained effort to change school and classroom practices, not just structures such as governance and accountability. The heart of improvement lies in changing teaching and learning practices in thousands and thousands of classrooms, and this requires focused and sustained effort by all parts of the education system and its partners."
Changing teaching and learning practices through focused and sustained effort.  If that's what's required to improve schools and student learning, then it means we can no longer accept the following in our school cultures:
  1. Handing teachers a pre-packaged generic curriculum and expecting them to march lock-step through it. We have to really foster a collaborative teaching culture and put supports in place to develop and sustain a culture of continuous improvement, which includes teachers developing their own curriculum based on standards and best practice.  We have to make sure teachers are up-to-date in what is currently considered best practice, provide resources they need to implement them, and give teachers the autonomy to to modify existing curriculum in order to teach the students in front of them.
  2. Allowing teachers to stagnate in their practice.  We have to provide professional development opportunities for all teachers to improve, especially the ones that tend to repeat what they have done in their classrooms year after year after year.  This means working with those teachers on a regular basis and holding them accountable for improvement.  But it also means teaching everyone how to stay current with tools like Twitter, Facebook, and feed readers.
  3. Being afraid to ruffle some feathers and take a stand.  I have encountered many school leaders who want to make everyone happy.  When you're fostering a culture of continuous improvement, you are bound to upset anyone who feels they don't need to change.  The key is to listen and honor any legitimate complaints, but always keep moving relentlessly towards developing that collaborative culture focused on continually getting better and teaching to improve student learning.
  4. Allowing people to opt out of improving.  Every time I give professional development sessions on PBL or grading for learning or on quality assessments the one comment I hear repeatedly is this:  "That's a lot of work. What I'm doing now works just fine and doesn't involve all that stuff." To me, that's opting out of doing what's best for kids because it would require more work...and that just doesn't make a damn bit of sense.  The other opt-out phrase I hear is, "That won't work for <fill in subject area or grade level>."  What we have to teach people is that whatever best practice we're introducing CAN work for their subject or grade level - but they may have to make some slight modifications.  Best practice and improvement isn't an all-or-nothing game; it will look different depending on what we're teaching or who we're teaching.
  5. Letting fixed mindsets rule the day.  Another common phrase I hear when doing professional development is this: "How do I know if I'm doing it right?"  This phrase is often followed by this one, "What if I do all this work and it doesn't work?" This is symptomatic of a fixed mindset, where failure is to be avoided. (And is really another way of opting out.)  What we have to realize is that trying something new that is considered best practice has got to be better than what we were doing - and getting better, not perfection, is the goal. Just as we expect students to consider failure as an inherent part of learning, educators need to realize this as well in terms of improving their practice.  In fact, I would go so far as to argue that you can't really move a school forward until you start developing growth mindsets towards teaching and learning.

Focused and sustained effort on constantly getting better.  That's what it takes to move schools forward...but we also need to recognize what will hold us back from improving teaching and learning.  

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