Thursday, January 1, 2009

Collaboration was the Answer all along.

A nationally Board Certified Teacher-type person is certified in 2002 but now "currently serves as a district professional development director." So, of course, he is an expert on improving schools.

And what is is expert advice that the rest of us have missed all these years? We never talked. We never collaborated. Never had and IEP meeting. EST meeting. Cross-curricular. No one ever suggested something. For each and every kid.

I'll let him speak.
There's no F in "Team"
by Stories from School's FIRST guest blogger: John

The nationally syndicated article by E. J. Dionne on education that appeared in this past Sunday’s Seattle Times is relevant to Tom’s last post on what new approach the Obama administration will take on education policy.

In addition to the policy statement Tom mentioned (EPI), Dionne also mentions a second policy onto which new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has signed—the Education Equality Project. It’s Statement of Policies includes this: “The sad reality is that these systems are not broken. Rather, they are doing what we have designed them to do over time. The systems were not designed with the goal of student learning first and foremost, so they are ill-equipped to accomplish what is demanded of them today.”

Damn those schools we all attended. They weren't designed for learning.

Schools were not built to overcome achievement gaps—they were designed to manage and rank all kids and educate some kids. While this may seem depressing, I believe it offers some hope…
Oh good.

If we can change the way schools do business, we can begin closing the achievement gap without spending trillions to do it. The key is in Dionne’s article title and final line—collaboration.

To continue the car analogy, what if you took your car instead to a team of mechanics? Instead of one mechanic’s opinion that you need a part that will cost and arm and two legs, you get a second mechanic who pipes in that he knows a wholesaler who can get the part for half that price. And then a third mechanic says “I can do you one better—I know a guy who refurbishes those parts for a quarter of the price.”
Right. Johnny needs a new muffler from the Guy in the Narrow Alley Over There.

Once schools start building a culture of collaboration, of collective responsibility for all students, not just those assigned to them, unprecedented gains can be made. The National Staff Development Council (NSDC) notes that “organized learning groups (of teachers) provide the social interaction that often deepens learning and the interpersonal support and synergy necessary for creatively solving the complex problems of teaching and learning.” (2007)
Bzzz. Bzzzz. More buzzwords! (Ignore the grammer errors.)

A school is built with a system of interventions that takes collective responsibility for not allowing students to fail can begin to overcome the factors outside of the school setting that provide barriers to learning. We did exit interviews with high school students in my district and several mentioned the fact that knowing they would not be allowed to fail was one of their strongest motivating factors. Often there is nobody else in the student’s life that cares enough to provide those expectations.

In some ways this approach makes the job much more difficult—it requires almost an “IEP” approach to each student. On the other hand, working together is almost always easier than working in isolation. Take a look at Damen’s comment to Tom’s post. He says, “I should just guide them and let them excel on their own. Then there are those who will struggle to achieve no matter how many hours I put in lesson planning. To reach these students I need to teach there parents how to parent or take the kid to a museum myself.” Damen’s language indicates that he sees the challenge completely on his shoulders. When looking at the challenge of overcoming the outside factors that hinder learning, it is overwhelming to do it alone. With a team approach, there is hope.

Obama and Duncan have teamed up on the basketball court with much success. I hope they focus on what has been shown to work and fight for the resources needed to implement true teamwork in schools.

John certified as a National Board Certified Teacher in 2002 in the Early Adolescence English Language Arts certificate area. He currently serves as a district professional development director.

Well, thanks John.

To continue the car analogy even further, what if you took your car instead to a different team of mechanics for a second opinion? They could stand around and talk over coffee and the one who knew what he was talking about could be overruled by the other two who had more seniority. The IEP specialist and the Director of Special Ed could then quarrel about exactly what services the school can afford while the parent steams and demands more tests. Finally, the case manager opens her laptop with the IEP template and actually writes the plan.

You wind up paying twice your original estimate and fail to help the problem. In fact, you spend even more money attempting to diagnose the problem because the first set of WISC-R results and Woodcock-Johnsons didn't jibe with what the teachers were telling the EST team in the first four meetings. So, now the teacher needs to fill out the 120 true/ false/ maybe questions that ask about everything under the sun and really don't specify much of anything. "Student has been sexually abused at home. Y/N/M" -- as if the teacher knew but was holding that information until you gave him the green form to fill out. What's with those green forms anyway? "Due no later than tomorrow, please fill out the kids name and address and his grades in every class and answer these simple questions."

It would be lovely if these meetings were effective. It would be even better if effective meetings could lead to a solution, but they don't. In my experience, the final result of all those meetings and all of that paperwork and those consultancy fees is that the teachers are told to make some accommodations and changes that have already been in place since the third week of school.

More importantly, children are not cars. Their problems aren't solved by plugging in a new set of spark plugs and replacing the oil. Teachers don't bid their ideas to the team in some capitalistic fashion. Children do not fail in one part that can be replaced by a magical pseudo-competitive free market multi-teacher consortium that has the best interests of the system at heart.

Teachers, parents, staff, and the kid all have ulterior motives and none of these lives up to your fantasy of mechanic #3 underbidding at a quarter of the price.

Although, I must admit that I'd love to start a bidding war in one of those meetings just to liven it up some.

"I can give him extra time and I'll do 15 minutes a day after school."

"Well, I'll give him that and organize learning groups of teachers to provide the social interaction that deepens learning and the interpersonal support and synergy necessary for creatively solving the complex problems of teaching and learning."

"Damn. Outbid again."

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