The answer begins by not doing anything

Educators get a whole summer to reflect upon the last school year and be introspective: What advanced student learning? What didn’t? How can I be a better teacher?

I’ve used June for reflection, and I’ve come to a conclusion I believe is important: It’s arrogant to think we understand all the implications constant changes to education bring to the classroom.

When a country invades another country, there’s no telling how out of whack the invaded territory will become culturally, religiously, economically. When you take a medication that affects one number obtained through blood work–let’s use cholesterol as an example–there’s no telling how all the other intricate metrics will be altered. When the government chooses to subsidize certain industries or companies and not others, there are going to be consequences. When pollution pours into water sources and the atmosphere, it’s a no brainer our ecosystems will be affected.

When you deploy technology into the classroom, there are going to be certain outcomes. The same goes with implemented curriculum, intervention strategies, and standards. The hope is the positive consequences will outweigh any negative results that may be detected. This leads me to another conclusion I’ve come to in June: It’s misguided to know there are negative implications to what’s being implemented but choose to ignore them in hopes they’ll go away or won’t be a factor. 

In education there’s a big emphasis on doing something. Do this, do that, read this, implement that, deploy this… Is time taken to reflect upon whether anything worked? I’d say the fact that we’re always trying something different is evidence that nothing is working.

The answer begins by not doing anything. Hunker down and get good at what you currently have as a school district. Create lessons and units with resources you already own. Share. Avoid paying consultants. Ignore the calls from tech vendors and publishing sales reps. Revel in the immobile pendulum you helped create because you realized the foolishness of the schizophrenic actions education policy has committed throughout the decades. 

Happiness is found when you stop looking for it. I think this sentiment can effectively be implemented in the education realm, too.

Common Core implementation

When great ideas are born, it’s truly an occasion to celebrate. When a business or institution has an exciting vision it wants to make a reality, people clamor to participate and turn the imaginary into reality. The challenge to succeed is enough of a thrill for many to go all in–even if the monetary payoff isn’t spectacular.

We know that hard work is what’s needed for ideas to flourish. Overnight success is rare, and many times those individuals or businesses that seem to be overnight successes have actually been at it for a really, really long time.

When the right amount of time and effort have been put forth, then and only then is it time to ship the work. The product might not be perfect. In fact, it probably won’t be. But that’s when you take feedback into consideration and retool the product so it performs better.

Sometimes, shipping basically means “implementing”–like when a business starts a new program, a computer company releases updated software, or U.S. education implements new learning standards.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are the K-12 standards that almost every state has begun implementing. In 2010, California adopted the CCSS to no fanfare or outcry. Now, in 2014, the standards are in the classrooms, and people are voicing their opinions. Loudly.

I happen to like the CCSS. Are they perfect? No. Should we consider them living documents that must change regularly? Of course. So I don’t believe the hostility against the standards themselves is warranted.

Here’s my concern: We’re not handling the CCSS implementation wisely.

  1. The standards are being shipped without enough work and piloting. It’s a rush job. Remember, when you ship, you have to sacrifice the initial blood, sweat, and tears. The product won’t be perfect, but sufficient effort was invested. Pulling teachers out of the classroom to create lesson plans and pacing guides is not going to reap the same rewards as paying curriculum specialists, who don’t have the current responsibility of teaching in the classroom, to collaborate on effective learning strategies.

  2. The implementation is bureaucratic in every sense of that ugly word. Checking boxes and including long strings of standards are taking the lion’s share of time, while planning quality lesson and writing effective assessment tools are falling by the wayside. This may be why New York teachers are withdrawing their Common Core support.

  3. A positive aspect about the CCSS (although it could be viewed as a negative) is that it’s broad enough to allow for teacher autonomy and creativity. Educators can use their own gifts to bring the standards to life for their students without being forced to teach with a “one size fits all” mentality. Imagine the Common Core is our galaxy and the teacher is a spaceship that can roam about with his or her students and mine the planets and stars for all their worth.

  4. A sloppy and hasty implementation will upset teachers–even good teachers. If the opportunity for buy-in by the majority of people who will be teaching the CCSS is destroyed, then the Common Core will go the way of No Child Left Behind, which means it’s back to the drawing board. This, in turn, will set the newly credentialed teachers on a swift bus to the town of Jaded.

In short, the CCSS is going to fly or plummet based upon its implementation. If it continues in the box checking way it’s headed, then Icarus is going to fall, baby. If there’s some humanity, compassion, thought, and time infused within the rollout, then the wax won’t melt and our kids will soar.