August 28, 2015

Keep It Simple


Remember when we were in elementary school and our teachers always told us to use the KISS method: Keep It Super Simple (or other variations). Many of us keep that in mind as we maneuver through our work and personal lives. Somewhere along the line, though, it becomes difficult to keep it simple.

In education we have seen many changes during the last 20 years and often those changes don't come with "and you can also STOP doing this." It seems that as new mandates arrive in education, we are only adding to our plates. We often talk about "doing more with less" and certainly try to make that work but it becomes more difficult. As curricula have developed and advanced and educational processes are researched to the nth degree, we have to take a step back and decide it is okay to focus on just a few things that can actually impact our students. We have to remember that we are all about the students in education.

As we talk about student learning and success, though, it is a simple process that we all too often decide to complicate.

  • What are we teaching
    • That is, what is happening in our classrooms
  • What is the expected curriculum 
    • If we are using the State Standards, does our classroom instruction match up? We have gone through this with the Michigan Curriculum Framework and the Content Expectations previously
  • What gaps do we have
    • As we compare our taught curriculum to the expected, we have to fill in the gaps and ensure that we are teaching "the currculum"
  • How are our students doing academically
    • We have to look at our student performance: 1) on state assessments; 2) on nationally normed assessments; 3) on classroom performance (e.g. grades). Students shouldn't be just a number, but their performance can tell us something. 
  • What can we do to improve student performance 
    • We have to decide what to do with students who are succeeding, students who are struggling, and students who are failing. We have to believe that all students can learn and strive to make sure that happens. 
You may be saying to yourself or even aloud, "Why does this matter?"It matters because our students are the future and we want to provide them every opportunity to learn and be prepared for the future. At an elementary school I used to work at, our mission was "Preparing today's student for tomorrow's world." This is so true of our educational mission. Why are we doing this? Because we want our kids ready when the future arrives. 

The simple steps we can take include the aforementioned alignment of our teaching with the curriculum, implementing opportunities for teachers and staff to collaborate, allow time for teachers to develop quarterly assessments and make them a part of the assessment program, and finally, make sure teachers have time to review information and make appropriate modifications. 

Furthermore, leaders have to provide teachers with the materials and supplies they need in their classroom to successful teach so the students are able to learn.In addition, we have to provide opportunities for teachers to learn new skills and continue to develop throughout their careers. Often professional development opportunities are not aimed at activities that help teachers help students. Sometimes PDs are aimed at compliance or even the occasional fun activities that have nothing to do with student learning. It's no wonder that teachers are disengaged in professional learning and thus students lose interest as they travel through school. 

Education is a simple process. Teachers teach. Students learn. We have to get back to the moment when everyone in education is engaged: the leaders, the teachers, the students, the families — even the boards of education … We all have to work together to create excellent opportunities for kids. We have to keep it super simple! 

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