A New Set of R’s

0404ingred_hBy Peggy Wuenstel —

The right regime  for education success should include adequate sleep, high quality nutrition, skill practice, preventive and restorative health and dental care, regular positive interactions, a safe place to call home,  and access to reading materials.

I am struck by how much of our focus is on outcomes is this new age of instruction. That is undeniably good, but not unless it is paired with some attention to what we are investing in that success. We are constantly asking students, and by extension their teachers, to get good results without paying any attention to what we are putting in.

The most wonderful recipe, from Emeril, Jaime Oliver,  or old school Julia Child has no chance of turning out right if the proper ingredients are unavailable. Quality and quantity both matter, but somehow we ignore this when planning how we will achieve desired educational results. Our efforts for improving the quality of public education, student outcomes, and the future of society need to begin at a much more fundamental level if we are to leave no child behind.

The right room – Education should happen in an environment that says “I care about you, and your comfort, needs and success are important to me”.

We don’t need a luxury resort, but crumbling infrastructure with exposed pipes, unsafe conditions and makeshift furniture should be seen as a travesty. This is especially important for those kids who come from homes where this is what they open their eyes to everyday.  The dress code phenomenon, where requiring a coat and tie, or a minimum level of formality changes the behavior of those who patronize an establishment is utilized by the business world. It also creates a sense of “I belong here”. I am not an advocate of school uniforms. But it starts with the establishment not the patrons. The environment also changes behavior. Are we going to offer casual or fine dining? Are we serving up offhand or committed learning?

The right relationships are key to student success. Study after study reports that this is one of the most important variables in student performance. Relationships take time. Teachers need the moments to connect, small group opportunities, preparation periods that facilitate student contact, Students need mentor relationships and coaching models rather than data collectors. Perhaps we need two layers of professionals in our schools; those whose love of students drives them to teach, and those whose understanding of data and love of the display of them draws them to the analysis.

Maybe this needs to be two people instead of one. Our desire to use the multi-leveled Show, Do, Assess, Refine  model of learning requires the time to observe and adapt as well as present a prepared lesson. Moving through multiple stages of understanding (I do/you watch, We do together, You do/ I help, You do/I watch and assess, followed by We modify our learning based on what we learned together) can only happen when student and teacher have the relationship that allows for the back and forth of responsibility for outcomes. We are often only doing steps one and there because there is not time for steps two and four. Like the development of play skills in very young children, we accomplish the parallel “I” steps and never get to the cooperative “we steps”.

The GIGO  (garbage in garbage out) acronym for the digital world also applies to the analog world of student performance. When asked to re-imagine public education this is what came to mind. We seem to be focusing all of our efforts on the outcomes – the tests, and in some sense even the standards do this because they imagine the end point. I do understand the logic of this.

If you don’t know where you want to go, there is only a remote change that you will actually arrive at your chosen destination. If you show up at an international airport without a ticket and you are randomly assigned a destination, it is unlikely that you will be prepared for that travel experience. You can’t possible have packed the right clothing and footwear for every eventuality. You might not speak the language and you won’t have the currency to spend when you arrive. This is, in a sense, what we ask students to do. We have to be the tour guide, the travel planners that make these trips possible.

Look how many places we as educators get to go if we accept this kind of challenge.  Sometimes we have to punt, but shouldn’t that be the exception rather than the rule?  I truly detest the commonly used metaphor of building the plane while you are flying it. Why would any rational human being commit to flying on a plane what was not yet finished?  The FAA would never allow it. We put students into this kind of provisional situation every day, not knowing where we are going, but trusting somehow we’ll get there. Maybe the fourth new R needs to be a road map or at the very least a GPS satellite signal that floats above us, getting us back on track when we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. Making sure we have the hardware, the software and the signal strength to connect are all requirements of this new era in teaching.

It is the journey that is the learning, not the outcomes or the destination. All aboard!

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