If you have walked into a tall building and seen the dreaded "elevator out of order" sign, then you know the importance of an elevator. It gets you where you need to go with minimal effort- but if it does not meet you where you are- it does not fulfill its purpose.
And the one that feels the pain is the one who has to use the stairs.
I have come to believe that teachers are educational elevators. We are there to raise a students understanding by making their path to success more accessible. But the key for us is to meet the students where they are. If the elevator only goes down to the third floor, you have to walk up three floors to get to that elevator that takes you where you want to go. Is the elevator really doing what it was meant to do?
I think the most obvious example of educational elevators is in content.
I started my educational career as a math lab assistant at an elementary school, performing interventions with students in kinder through second grade who were falling behind. Every day, I had to gauge where the students' understanding was, and move my instructional strategy to where they were. This was more than just "can they add and subtract," as I would show five manipulatives, hide two behind my back and ask "How many do I have now?" They would answer five, because technically, I still had five. So, I knew I had to change my approach and methods- and not underestimate these young learners.
Now, I am at the high school level. We like to talk about how secondary educators are experts in their content area. I believe this to be true at my school- we have teachers who are brilliant in their content area. But I sat in many college lecture halls with experts who had no clue how to meet me where I was. Many of our students will disconnect and fail to learn if we are unable or unwilling to take our elevator down to their level.
Getting a baseline measurement of where students are at the start of content introduction is a great way to move the elevator. It lets you know what areas of strength exist, and what areas of growth are possible. That allows me to shape instruction moving forward, spending more time in areas of greatest need. In a less formal manner, you engaging in open conversation in and around class time is a great formative assessment.
I can never expect students to just understand what I am talking about. I will have to work to move toward their understanding to bring them where they need to be. That takes relationships. I would never set foot in an elevator that has holes in the floor, exposed wiring and groans and complains with every movement. Teachers need to develop warm class environments- physically or emotionally or both- that are welcoming to students.
Educational elevators must be accessible and inviting to fulfill thier purpose.
In a conversation with fellow educators and school stakeholders, we discussed how to best reach our school sub-populations that were underperforming. In the course of the conversation, we turned to finding ways to engage parents, and get them on board with the district's approach to educating students. It came up that we do offer opportunities to come to our schools often, but the parents that come are the ones we have already established a relationship with. The parents we need to connect with are the ones that never come.
So, it was asked, why don't we go to them?
When I was a minister, we often talked about the flaw in modern American churches that expected the people to come to them. "We have services every Sunday and Wednesday, we are a big building, and they know where to find us." All true statements- churches are nothing if not consistent. But there is often a shortage of reaching out- unless you are missionary minded.
Schools could claim the same thing- we are open every day, we have big, distinct buildings, and they know where we are. We even send home emails and flyers. But it always comes from a stationary approach. Come to tutorials, come to events, come see us.
When do we take education to them?
I feel that schools are beginning to adopt a more missionary mindset in regards to parent outreach. At least two schools in my district had events where teachers went to neighborhoods of their students to establish relationships. One gave out sno-cones in a neighborhood park, allowing them to meet large numbers of the students they were going to serve. Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome share in Kids Deserve It events they have done that go to where the hard to reach parents are. Offering food is always a good idea, by the way.
Educational elevators must be mobile, or they are not meeting thier purpose.
You Gotta Get On
Personal responsibility is vital for students to grasp. As educators, we tend to blame ourselves for everything that does not work with students. Yet I know educators who have done EVERYTHING to reach students and nothing happens.
When an elevator door opens, appears safe, and meets you where you are, it has done everything it can to meet your needs. You gotta get on for it to fulfill its purpose.
Some students simply will not get on your educational elevator.
Do not take this personally. But at the same time, even if a student has called for you a dozen times in one day, and you have met them where they are every time with no response, we must be willing to answer every call, every time.
But ultimately, our students must make the choice to raise their understanding.
Educational elevators have to always be available, even to the students who are reluctant to get on board.
Education is about growth, movement, and progress. Yet it can become very easy for us to get fixed in one position or approach to education. Flexibility is a core characteristic of educational elevators, and one we need to constantly maintain.
One word of caution to you as an educational elevator- don't take on too much.
One summer I was at a Student Council camp as a sponsor, and too many people got on the elevator in the dorms. It got stuck. For two hours. Thankfully for me, I saw the overload and did not get on. Not so fortunate for the sixteen or so people who were on it.
Know your limits- what you can do and can't, where you can help and where you can't. Know who to turn kids two when the weight is too much.
Do whatever it takes to get students to success, even if you are not the one to get them there.