Sunday, March 7, 2010

To Do More with Less, or Do "Different" with Less, That is the Question.

In my last post, I stated that in light of the dismal financial future and the demands that are being placed on public educators, we will have to do more with less. This really struck a nerve with a colleague. So much so that we had a conversation about the statement and I shared the number of times I have heard "we have to do more with less" in various settings. The response to me was "maybe it is not doing more with less, but doing things differently." I think I am fully aware we have to do things differently, but what things? The problem is that no one really knows what those things are. When the future is filled with uncertainty, it is difficult for us to forge ahead when we do not know what the end result will look like. We struggle when we do not have an example of what it should like. When we have to create something from scratch, fear and anxiousness begin to set it. This happens only because we want to do things right...once again, what things are we talking about?
When I feel like I need guidance or inspiration I turn to my "teacher" books, a joke I share with my colleague mentioned above, as we tease each other and say we are "teacher geeks" because we seem to share the same interests in books that help us perfect our craft. So the book I just finished, Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, Jacobs (2010) states that we need to create new versions of school as well as update the curriculum. In the description of updating the curriculum, it is vital to define essential curriculum. This definition should include removal and replacement of outdated material, skills, and ways we assess students. Rather than take on the huge challenge of upgrading all aspects of curriculum at once, it is recommended that schools take one piece at a time. Targeting one unit a semester can feel a lot less daunting than revamping everything you use to teach and assess at one fell swoop.
The author also describes that maybe we really need to redefine what it is we call school. The structures that we can begin to redefine would be scheduling (daily and yearly, even what it means K-12); the way students are grouped (age and grade); the way we configure staff; and how learning environments are used (physical and virtual.) These structures can also impact curriculum as we now know it.
If we have schedules, groupings, structural space, and a curriculum that still models the schools of the 1930s, we are overdue in taking on the challenge to make schools support what our students need to be able to know and do. Our students should not have to conform to what we so rigidly keep in place, because if we change it, we won't know what the end result might look like.
In the words of my fellow doctoral cohort member, We can't say that because we use an overhead instead of the chalkboard, or an LCD projector instead of an overhead, or a smartboard instead of an LCD projector that we are progressing and using 21st century tools, we are still doing the same thing just with new bells and whistles. This is not the "doing things differently" that we mean is it? Or is the "doing things differently" mean we have to "blow up" those traditional models and start from scratch, with the ultimate goal of creating the most engaging learning environment and curriculum that there is not any type of learner that cannot succeed and that any teacher would not love to teach everyday! Yes, I know maybe my head is in the clouds again, maybe it should be my dissertation topic...


  1. There is a saying that if you keep doing the same things in the same way, you should expect to achieve the same results as you have always achieved. We are teaching students in a digital world using methods of an analog day while teaching content that may not on par with the students' learning readiness. You are right when you say that no one really knows how to reconstruct schools to fit today’s accountability demands while remaining developmentally appropriate for our students (and teachers). However, until somebody comes up with the solution, no amount of money, technology, meetings, or hours will improve the situation. We need to work smarter, not harder. (But how do we do that?)

  2. The future is not so dismal with a vision. A vision does not cost any money and defines the things that we do differently. When resources are limited we need to take inventory on the things we truly value and the things we do. If we are doing things that do not support the things we truly value, then we need to change them. When someone is told that they have a terminal illness, they look at their life in a different way. If they chose to fight, they take inventory of their life and hold on to the things they value and free themselves of all excess that they can no longer spend time or energy on. A vision makes uncertainty dissipate and the journey more bearable. All students have an uncertain future, but we expect them to have a goal and a vision which allows them to forge ahead no matter what their circumstances are. We are role models for our students. We should not look at these bleak economic times as a time to give up, but as an opportunity to inspire innovation and creativity to do more with less. Students that are unable to see past the uncertainty and create their own personal vision have a difficult time buying into the education process. A common clear vision helps teachers use their limited resources to their fullest. An unclear vision causes resources such as time, energy, money, to be spread too thin and not very effective. Technology provides interest and motivation for students, but it does not provide the skill and the know how to inspire, move, and relate to them. I agree that students learning needs to be enhanced by the technology available to them, but they also need to be taught the discipline of learning. I believe that this is the true purpose of secondary education. The standards have caused the education system to lose focus of this essential life skill and instead focus on a lot of "stuff" that can be accessed with a click of a mouse. I believe the standards should be looked at as a tool for students to learn the true discipline of leaning. Are you smarter than a fifth grader proves this point on a nightly basis. Successful adults are give questions based on standards that are deemed important. Most of them struggle with the content. However, if they were asked where they could find the answer, most of them would be able to do so with ease. Standardized tests define average; they do not define the leaders of tomorrow. I agree we need to redefine school, but not necessarily the structure but how we define success.