In the world of public education, I often hear leaders reference initiatives by saying, “Oh, we do that!” “We do Project Based Learning.” We do STEM.” “We are a growth mindset school.” But when pressed for details, its becomes clear that perhaps 30% of their teachers have attended a two day training, or curriculum units have been purchased, or the staff has read a book. Rarely, do leaders speak to the widespread affect that ANY initiative has had on their students’ learning.. The instructional practice in the classroom has not been impacted by the initiative in a way that is cohesive or consistent. Why is this?
They never really started or they gave up too soon.
Sometimes I read articles on running. I’ve downloaded apps. I’ve bought new running shoes, and made a music playlist on my phone just for running. I’m learning a lot about running. I know people who run and I talk to them about it. I ask them questions about preventing injuries and distances they run in a week to prepare for a race. I can talk the language of running. I could probably pose as a runner and others might believe me, but I’m not a runner. Why? I don’t have a regular practice of running. My body does not feel the benefits and pains of a runner. In order to be a runner, I have to run…regularly, consistently and not give up.
Schools and districts have done a lot to prepare for the shifts in education: Reading articles and books, downloading apps, hanging educational posters, talking to colleagues, attending trainings. However, the practice of rigorous instruction and learning is still a struggle in many of the classrooms I visit. School leaders know it, but the plan for making the practice a reality is often times non existent.
To become a runner, I have to get outside and run. In order to do that, my best chances at making it a reality is to work with a running group, a trainer or a running buddy. When I work with others not only can I track my own progress, but I can compare my growth with that of more established runners. I can let another guide lead the way for a while until I’m ready to practice on my own. Even if I chose my running route, my support people can give me pointers and expert tips to make my run the most efficient and successful given the circumstances of the course. If I’m training for a half marathon or a marathon, this might take 6 months to a year. Having a coach and group support, increases my chances for making my running practice stick.
In the education world, teachers and principals need support in the classroom to make rigorous instruction and learning a reality. They need someone who can collaborate and guide while also giving feedback, somebody to encourage the work while the motivation wanes. Even if educators have gone to trainings or are using new programs, supporting instruction in the classroom is key to realizing the rigor in the practice of instruction and learning. Teachers and site leaders working in collaboration in the classroom creates a symbiotic relationship to continue the momentum of effective instruction. Teachers sharing their practice helps to self evaluate effectiveness and progress. Having a coach and group support, increases the chances of making rigorous instructional practices stick.
Whether planning to run or planning to make instructional shifts, our effort to start and not give up is one in the same. As leaders, we can’t fool ourselves into thinking “it’s” happening merely because we have planned to lay the groundwork. As educators, we must be compelled to support implementation and commit to all the facets of support for the long haul until “it’s” just what we do. It is possible.