Beyond the Shadows

Perception is a funny thing. A common phrase declares, “Perception is reality.” Yet we all know there are often circumstances when the perception is really a distorted reality. When reviewing perception data with schools, I usually tell them it doesn’t really matter whether the perception is true or not; if people believe it is true, then the issue of changing the perception still must be addressed. Sometimes we focus so much on one view that we neglect to look at the underlying circumstances that contribute to the (mis)perception.

What is real? What is illusion?

We need to look beyond the shadows, behind the light, and examine the why and how of our classrooms. Too often, we just look at the surface of our classrooms (and, if you’re feeling philosophical, our lives). People who don’t really understand education believe if a classroom is quiet and the kids are working, everything is great. Unfortunately, “quiet” and “working” frequently do not equate to “great;” they equate to compliance.

Don’t get me wrong. There are pockets of greatness in our schools. There are dedicated professionals who work hard, find ways to make things happen, and provide high quality instruction. Those teachers–teachers who are continually learning and reading and implementing–begin to think all teachers are like them. Unfortunately, that isn’t true. There really ARE teachers who take the entire summer off. There really ARE teachers who are not lifelong learners and have to scramble to take courses to accrue enough credits to renew their certificates. There really ARE teachers who recycle the same lessons year after year without any reflection or modification. There really ARE teachers who only talk about problem students or administrative issues or parent issues and never collaborate in a way that impacts instruction.

So much work I see as I visit classrooms is rote learning — low level questions with concrete, right/wrong responses. I see lots of student compliance and much less student engagement. I see little use of technology as a tool to increase engagement and enhance the content learning. [And, yes, I realize some of the fault with lack of technology use lies with the frustration about blocked sites and lack of meaningful access to social networking sites.]

As professionals, teachers must become more collaborative and reflective. We must explicitly examine the kind of work we give students to do and discuss whether the work is really worth doing. Is it engaging? Is it purposeful? Is the outcome the intended outcome? Undertaking this endeavor requires a supportive school culture where teachers are comfortable sharing, commenting and listening to feedback. One effective way to introduce the process of looking at student work is to use one of the established protocols available from Looking At Student Work.  Using protocols helps keep the discussion more professional and less personal. It helps reduce the defensiveness some teachers feel when discussing the work they have created.

What percentage of the work we give students promotes the skills employer’s want for workers of the future? Is our work really getting the job done?

Explore posts in the same categories: Questions/Challenges, Tips, Ideas, Resources

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