My name is Chad, and I am addicted to fettucini alfredo.
It started in college, I would get Chicken Helper boxed dinners and make a quick meal. Later, I started getting the jars of alfredo sauce- but they tasted...bad. Finally, I found a recipe for alfredo sauce online, and began tweaking it and adding to it to make it my own. And while the amount of butter I use in my recipe will likely kill me someday- I never want to go back to boxed dinners.
I get the lure of boxed dinners- they are quick, low effort, and relatively cheap. They also use roughly one pan- so there is not much cleanup. My chicken alfredo recipe uses at least three pots and pans. It requires constant monitoring and sampling to make sure the flavor and texture is just right while the box dinner is 'perfectly' seasoned.
The truth is, in my life, I do not like the 'boxed dinner' approach. Some will say "why reinvent the wheel?" when a good program already exists. But I enjoy the design and building and flavoring that goes into making something new and fresh.
There is something about stepping back from a project that you created from scratch and feeling a sense of accomplishment- knowing that you built that. Following an existing program may get the job done, but the ownership is nor there.
LEADS, the student leadership program I developed with about a dozen fellow educators is an example of this. The program is a complete, from the ground up build. Nothing existed there before, and we used no pre-packaged programs to do it. At the same time, a great program has been started by our district at the high school level (LEADS is intermediate and middle) uses an existing, prepacked program. It is a great program, but I have very little interest in tying our program into that. One reason is that the voice LEADS has created is unique, it is its own thing. To link them would dilute that voice and the voice of the other program. I want LEADS to grow into a high school program organically and naturally and with our district's teachers fashioning it.
There is merit in the 'boxed dinner' approach. It is a great tool for new teachers or teachers who struggle on the innovation side. I used this style when my fourth prep was added this year- I simply lacked the time to develop a total class. So, I used what someone else gave me. But it was not long before I was innovating and adapting my content to fit my unique situation. Giving a common or shared curriculum is good for a start, but I believe a teacher must develop a unique voice. I fear that any move to standardize our instructional style will lead to a loss of individual voice.
Imagine you are a gourmet chef. Even after a long day of cooking, would you crack open some Hamburger Helper? Yet when a teacher is told that they should stop doing cool stuff that another teacher is not- because it is creating a lack of equity, we are giving a chef a boxed dinner. For a chef, it is not about 'reinventing the wheel,' it is about exploring the possibilities freely.
If we are truly to prize innovation, should we use pre-packaged programs on our campuses and in our classrooms? If I say no- I am doing that which I loathe- standardizing a response. So in our school pantry, there must be room for Hamburger Helper lessons AND new wheel lessons. And our 'lesson in a box' teachers AND our 'reinvent the wheel' teachers all need to feel empowered to be the best they can be. And, I believe, both can be challenged from time to time to try the other way. It helps us be more well rounded- but it also helps us see education from the perspective of our friend and colleague down the hall.
Now, if you will excuse me, this extended food metaphor has made me very hungry.