I often wonder how we can get an accurate picture of what and how educators are teaching today. We have more, and better technology than we have ever had to record and analyze data, and yet we still do not have a clue as to what is really going on in the average classroom. The pictures that we get, or the stories that are told, seem to focus on the best and the worst. Too often superintendents spin the best, and the media spins the worst. We need to remind ourselves that any story about what is going on in education is just a snapshot that is representing a very tiny portion of the big picture.
There are too many education leaders who when talking about their schools tend to focus on the best and most innovative representations their schools have to offer. Intentional or not, this creates an impression on their audience that the entire school is filled with the best and most innovative educators. That may actually be true in some instances, but my guess would be that it is a very much smaller number than such stellar tales would lead us to believe.
Of course the idea is to offer real life examples that can be used as models for exemplary teaching. I get that, but too often these stories create an impression that these models are typical, rather than exceptional. I too am guilty of putting a positive spin on the effects of such things as technology in education, student voice, student-centered learning, self-directed PD, connected learning, and open source access. I recommend blog posts that model not only the benefits of these methodologies, but give shining examples being used today in classrooms, as if that is the norm. The fact is that the very reason these are highlighted is because they are exceptional and not the norm. It is important that these stories are shared as examples and models, but I truly believe that we need to maintain our perspective as to where they fit in the bigger picture of education.
In our latest desire for innovative education, many educators are sharing their best and most innovative lessons with their principals. The principals in turn share their best and most innovative teacher stories with their superintendent. The superintendent then takes the best of the best from all of those stories to share with the public in order to create that positive vibe for the district that everyone loves. This is good PR.
The PR process however may be creating a picture of education that is not easily lived up to. People walking into a school on any given day may be expecting great innovative, tech-supported lessons in every class only to be greeted by sit and get lectures with all kids seated in rows and quietly taking notes.
Whenever I entered a school to observe a student teacher from our teacher preparation program, I would try to walk through the school to observe at a glance what other classes were doing under the guidance of veteran teachers. It was a cursory observation at best, but there were observable differences.
My students would often have me observe them doing a student-centered lesson that usually involved group work and technology. Of course they knew what my preferences were and they believed in “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. I was not tyrannical, but I was partial to innovative lessons. I was rarely disappointed in what they did, or attempted to do. In my walk around however, I was too often struck by the fact that, I observed a majority (not all) of the teachers relying on sit and get methods with kids sitting complacently in rows.
Now we have entered into an era of Do It Yourself PD. As much as many educators talk about connectedness and all of its benefits, I see very little evidence that supports connected learning is being adopted on any large-scale by educators. Judging from books, articles, speeches and posts, educators should be in a constant state of collaboration on a global scale. Again, we are creating a complete picture of education PD that is based on a few snapshots, rather than an accurate, realistic view of what is. We do need to tell stories and model where we should be going, but we can’t give the impression that we have already achieved that goal. We need schools to do an honest assessment of what they are doing in order to determine where they need to change and improve. We can’t improve without recognizing where we need to improve. Change will best be served with both top down and bottom up improvements working for the same goal. For that to happen we need better transparency, honesty, and accuracy. If we better understand what we are actually doing, we will better understand what we need to do in order to improve.