A few things going on in my little corner of the world known as school, make no sense. While searching for rationale and answers to my questions, I find myself second guessing my intelligence and sanity. You know the feeling. You enter a discussion feeling smart enough, informed, articulate and rational but at some point, because the other person is crazy, you begin to second guess yourself.
Here are two examples.
In a large and diverse school district nearby, a new district administrator was named The Schedule Expert. As such she turned the entire district upside down taking away flexibility needed to make special education services accessible to students. You know, the flexibility needed to provide teachers time to pee between 8 and 3, and kids time to be kids. Her schedule ignored all sound research about students needing time to ponder, to socialize, to free play, to move, to decompress.
Why? You know the answer. Test scores.
So, The Schedule Expert imposed such rigid timelines and minutes per content area that special education resource programs were rendered less effective. Kids in crisis were less likely to get the therapeutic time they needed to decompress, to process, to just be with their teacher who has been trained to deal with these things. You see, special education teachers are now expected to adhere to these minutes per content area rules. They are assigned to teach in general education classrooms, which is a very good thing for our included special needs kids, but there are so many special needs kiddos per special education teacher there is no time to work with students in smaller groups or to help students in crisis. The special education teachers are spread so thin. Meeting IEP minutes of too many students placed in too many different classes prohibits real collaborative planning and teaching. It also keeps one from writing and implementing student-centered and truly individualized education plans.
The other consequence of such rigid scheduling hit gym, art and music teachers hard. Their schedules have become ridiculously impossible. See, they have to work around the rigid academic schedule which, in most cases, means that art teachers adapted by shaving off student work time in order to get materials put away to make room for entirely different materials needed for the next group. 5th graders don’t do the same stuff in art that 1st graders do. They use different stuff. They are learning different concepts and practicing different skills. Set up in art rooms is time consuming.
And get this. Part of teachers adjusting to this strained scheduling is learning the art of developing lessons that can be stopped midway for lunch or to get the kids to art, music, gym class and then resumed when they return. These students are getting practice working split shifts. Does that qualify as a life skill?
How does this make sense? Given what we know about how kids learn best, how important it is for teachers to make connections and build relationships with students, and how critical it is for teachers to have time with one another, how can this rigidity in scheduling be a good thing? It ignores the human aspect of teaching and learning. Students and their teachers are whole beings. When they are treated as such, teaching becomes more effective, learning becomes more joyful, meaningful and relevant. What this district has said, loudly and quite clearly, is that the schedule is boss. Period.
Last I heard, test scores are not improving, teachers are retiring earlier than they originally planned and new teachers are leaving to take positions in other districts. Gee, that’s good for kids, isn’t it?
The other example of crazy practice in schools has to do with the trend to give every kid in a district an iPad, Chromebook, laptop. I am all for ensuring all kids have equal access to technology. Making this happen is expensive, takes buy-in from the tax payers, requires extra IT personnel, necessitates very mindful planning. These tools can certainly boost skills, allow for deeper exploration of content, more individualized instruction, better data collection and student monitoring. These tools have the potential to level the playing field and narrow certain achievement gaps.
But more often than not, the teachers expected to make use of these tools are not trained or provided support. You know how much time it takes to learn how to effectively use technology like this. You know how much time teachers need to develop that skill set and to integrate these tools into the daily lessons. We all know how many great apps, fantastic programs, and effective methods there are out there. But it takes much time to explore in order to find the right ones and to use these tools in meaningful ways. These tools have great potential to make learning more relevant, more engaging.
Unless, of course, you do it the way a nearby school district did. All the students have been given brand new devices, but the teachers have not. And it’s March and they still don’t have them. Let that sink in. The teachers who are expected to effectively include the use of these devices have never been given their own device to explore and practice with. And it is March. They still don’t have their own devices. And yet they have been expected to document how and when they are using them in their classes.
To be fair, I must report the teachers did attend a three hour professional development seminar last summer to learn all about it. Many report it was a three hour rah-rah session about what a great initiative this is. They left wondering how they were going to meet this new expectation without the actual tool in hand.
I wish I could say these examples were not the norm. I wish I could say they were just flukes and lessons were learned and changes made. The truth is, this stuff happens everywhere.
Just more evidence schools are becoming less and less about the humans that show up there every day.