Thursday, February 23, 2012

Becoming Our Own Experts

With all of the talk of late re: the role of data in education, and the importance placed on system-level or larger-scale standardized tests, talk tends to lead to trying to identify the real measures of success in schools.

Requests to standardize educational practices then, based on these results, are commonly raised by some external educational stakeholders, and are commonly argued against by internal stakeholders. Similar discussions tend to occur re: the role of data and research.

I love watching these discussions unfold in person, online via blog comments, or on twitter.

As I try to detach from the emotional beliefs I hold given I am deeply embedded in the educational system, and observe these conversations/arguments from the sideline, I am often reminded of one of my 'self-sayings'. The little voice on my shoulder often advises me: "Approach with caution those who are too certain," because I think being open to new ideas is a VERY important trait in this era of RAPID change!

For those who claim data and research should drive the educational bus, I try to understand why they hold that belief. For those who claim we need to be open to constructing our own learning and not basing our decisions on the research of others, I try to understand the foundation of their beliefs.

Ultimately, I find trying to look beneath the arguments on both sides helps me to arrive at my own conclusions more quickly. Tonight I happened across a 16 minute TED talk on the topic of experts and I thought it was extremely appropriate to education. In this talk, economist Noreena Hertz talks about why we should be cautious when it comes to taking the advice of experts. Give it a watch, and after you are done I'll reveal my position on the role of research, data, etc, in education.

Interesting, isn't it?

I think she makes a great point. We truly need to become our own experts in education, because each school and each community TRULY DOES have unique circumstances. To do that though, I think we need to provide a framework for building a base level of knowledge. We need to bridge the ideal of completely constructivist learning with the need to be accountable to a set of curricular standards expected by society. I think we need to bridge theory and practicality to attain a level of consistency for all students.

In our district, our administrators have worked for the past 3 or 4 years to identify expected instructional practices that should be evident in every classroom. Our superintendent sent a letter to every teacher reinforcing these expected practices. Providing a balanced approach to teaching literacy, and focusing on reading comprehension in every subject area, are examples of our expected practices. We also talk a lot about the most effective instructional practices identified through comprehensive meta-analysis on student achievement by Marzano and Hattie, and some are also evident in our expected practices.

I think our expected instructional practices, as well as identifying some of the core interventions we are expected to provide all students, create a platform by which we can support the growth of the experts in our classrooms and offices. Expected practices are not maximums...they are the minimums, from which continued teacher growth will occur. Looking back, I would have given up a prep block in my first few years if I had been told to focus on these specific instructional practices. It would have improved my teaching in a faster and more focused way than I experienced.

As continuous improvement happens, our experts will be more and more successful, and our ability to address unique needs at each school will continue to improve. Consequently, I hope, our reliance on external experts should increase as well. And so on. Wouldn't that be a desirable circle of improvement to set in motion?

What do you think the role of experts is in education? I'd love to know your thoughts....add a comment perhaps?


1 comment:

Cheryl Brown said...

We all want to know specifially what the heck we are aiming for. I hated teachers in my practicums who would say "reflect on what your did- what do you think you should have done?"

Seriously that is why I was paying tuition. I wanted direction. Expected practices should not be guessed at. Come on help these people out. They all want to be better regardless of their levels. No one loves to do poorly!!