Thursday, November 1, 2012

Culture is the key

Hi Kathryn,

I attended a TST BOCES training on the new curriculum modules purchased by NYS to be aligned with the Common Core on Monday.  Not only was there a huge storm blowing off the east coast while I sat in the building, there was also a huge storm brewing in my mind.  I was attending a full day training on these "modules" available to us as 5th grade teachers.  Beth D was trying her hardest to captivate a room of 5th grade teachers, and to break down the 400 plus page document into a few highlighted sections.  A program called Experiential Learning (EL)created these modules and NYS bought them for millions of dollars to help teachers align their curriculum to the common core.

 Here is the ironic part about the whole thing.  The EL model is to go into schools, meet with the teachers and talk about what the kids need.  They then work with teachers, administrators, and parents to design a model for the school that will work for the students.  They design instruction and their day to empower students to be independent learners, thinkers, and participants in their learning.  EL provides coaching, and ongoing professional development for these schools.  Therefore, the curriculum modules were designed BY teachers in this really collaborative way.  HOWEVER, NY State has paid EL millions of dollars to "roll out" these modules and in some cases, teachers are being forced to teach them.  Doesn't that defeat the whole point of the process?  Just because you pay for something does not make it effective.

What I want to talk about is culture.  It really became clear to me that is the missing piece in all of this. What makes a successful school successful?  What makes schools have students who do amazing on these tests?  It's not a certain way of teaching or one implemented module, it's culture.  Schools that value teachers, and students and participate in a collaborative learning environment will have higher test scores.  Schools that create a positive educational culture and really encourage and teach to the person, not the test, will ultimately have higher test scores.  Any school that is successful, is due to a shift in culture and strong leadership and partnership between teachers, parents and administrators.

The fact that NY State thinks they can buy a program designed is this amazing way, and then force it on teachers with no regard for the culture of design is infuriating to me.  Luckily, I work in a district that does have a positive educational culture.  Our district values teachers opinions and voice.  We have collaboration and buy in.  We don't have to just adopt these modules at face value.  However, it is an issue that NY State continues to miss the point.  I was on board for the Common Core because I can see the value in it.  I was even on board with the SLO's because I could use it for my own data tracking.  I will probably get on board with some aspects of these modules and knowing what to keep and what to pitch.  I am not on board with the lack of creative problem solving and addressing real issues from the state.  I'm tired of being treated like an idiot. I'm tired of having politicians think that I can't think for myself. I'm tired of having everything dumbed down for teachers.  Put us in a room together and give us time and we will create wonderful modules for our own students.  Why are you paying a group to give us 400 pages of lessons?  

Thank god for the writing project.  It's a safe place where teachers are valued and we have time to sit and think, write and share ideas with each other.  I don't know what I would do if I didn't have the writing project.  I'm also very grateful for you!  Thanks for reading!