Following a trend in education? Stop the madness!

I really wish you and I were having this chat face-to-face. I just do better expressing myself when I can use my hands, make faces, pace, and hear what you are thinking and wondering.

I hope you are not waiting for me to site research, use education buzz words or endorse the flavor of the day. I don’t do that. I really hope you are not looking for a checklist or recipe. I think all that stuff has gotten in the way, stifled many, made for many lost opportunities. While I appreciate all the education resources we have access to, way too often those bits of research get adopted and mandated by states, school districts, building administrators as THE answer. Way too many of those research findings turn into money generating cash cows for big publishing companies who then turn them into big, loud, money making education movements. Sometimes everyone gets a ‘free’ T-shirt or a tote bag.

I suggest that when states, schools, administrators, even teachers get behind these trends, we lose because most education trends are all or nothing. You have to buy the whole package. Not just the philosophy, not just the practice, not just the parts that work best for your teachers and students, but the WHOLE package that includes a kit of some sort that costs thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. We lose our willingness to take teaching risks with our students. When these trends are purchased by districts and teachers receive professional development about how to use the materials/kit, they are usually told they have to follow the protocol explicitly. Don’t veer away or all will be lost, your students won’t make the same gains as Mr. Smith’s students who are in the room next to yours.
Oh this stuff is insidious. It eats away at confidence. It erodes professional relationships. It makes using feedback from our students useless as we only look for solutions within that trend’s protocol.

We follow the bright and shining objects that promise to fix our lower performing students, close our achievement gaps in math and reading, solve behavior management challenges, and get us ahead in the race to the top. The top of what? And what does it have to do with me, my kids and quality of life?

I am not going to spend time dismantling individual bits of research. I count on Alfie Kohn for that. Yes, I am having an intellectual affair with the man. He knows nothing of it. It’s very one sided. I am good with that because I think if I ever had the chance to chat it up with him, I would undoubtedly just sit and stare with a goofy look on my face.

I have no interest in dissing academics and researchers. They have certainly advanced our understanding of how learners learn. I just want to stop the insane practice of chasing after THE solution for whatever ails us in education. Instead, think objectively and critically. Let’s return to meaningful discussions based in real time, real students, right now, today. Let’s stop reacting to every new bit of information in such big and expensive ways. Let’s stop being frightened about possible missteps in following trend protocol. You know that kind of worry is exhausting and distracting and certainly drains creativity and prohibits divergent thinking.

How convenient for those big publishing companies. THE fix is in their protocol and if your students don’t show growth, it’s because you, the teacher, didn’t follow protocol. It has nothing to do with that trend not being the best choice for that teacher and those students. It’s not the product, it’s the delivery. Well played publishing house, well played.

Please do not misinterpret. I am only suggesting there are probably better ways to figure out all things school. I embrace new research about effective teachers and how the brain works, and how to determine where certain kids find challenges and how to work around or through them. My own children have benefitted greatly from what we now know about Autism. I am not ‘old school’, a traditionalist, stuck in the past. What I am is an independent thinker who has stepped back to take a wider view of what is going on in schools and discovered some high priced thinking errors. All I am suggesting is we aren’t done discovering, we don’t need to turn new discoveries into high stakes, expensive trends. Researchers might change their minds, find new clues, develop new hypotheses. We used to believe that behaviorist methods for managing children was THE answer. Seclusion and restraint is where that got us. And now we know how damaging that was for far too many children. Negative consequences have now turned into more positive and proactive practices, but in far too many places is just another behaviorist model using carrots instead of sticks.  My guess is that common sense will swing the pendulum back to how we used to do kindergarden and realize controlling kids is not what school is supposed to be about. Engaging kids is far more rewarding.

Understanding ourselves as learners and teachers, treating our students as whole beings and taking teaching risks is the trend I am marketing. And it’s free. But if you really want another tote bag or T-shirt, I could provide that. My closet is full of them.

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