In college, I was an officer in an organization that was at a turning point. For decades, it had provided a variety of services to students in one location, but in the more recent years, new organizations were starting to perform those same services. The director asked the opinions of all the officers, and I expressed, with perhaps too much youthful arrogance, that the time had come to change some of the "sacred cows" of the organization. Other groups had made certain aspects of our organization their sole purpose, and were doing it well. I proposed that our organization do the same- focus on our areas of strength, and provide a unique service no one else was. I also advocated dropping some offices- my own included- because there were better ways to provide that leadership than the way it was currently structured.
That organization was a Christian organization, and I was advocating the elimination of the evangelism committee.
Not that I thought we should cease to evangelize, but the medium of doing it as a committee rather than an organic and natural part of life was not being effective. We just maintained it because we always had. I proposed the same role could be served through the organization's biggest strength- the missions program.
My idea was not accepted.
But the next director, who came just a couple years later, did something very similar to what I suggested, and the organization is going strong today.
What does that have to do with education?
We too have "sacred cows-" I'll call them "sacred desks." There are structures and practices that we persist in using from our local schools to our national laws, and it is time we tip them over.
I am currently a part of our district's Dream Team- teachers and administrators and a few students who gather to innovate answers to some tough questions, and this past week, the question centered around the things we do that we do not know why we still do them. The topics that rose to the top for us were:
I became a teacher after about a dozen years of doing something else. I do not look at education like someone with an education degree, and for some that is a detriment. It has been for me at times because I do not always know the lingo, there are educator in-jokes I do not get.
"There are a lot of things I do because I was never told that I couldn't."
But that deficit of degree is also an asset. I do not try to solve things from inside the box, and when I do, I work to reshape the box as much as I can. As an alternatively certified teacher, there are a lot of things I do because I was never told that I couldn't. I let my students engage in conversation because I had seen it work in my other careers- that was where ideas came from, not textbooks. I want my students- in every class- to learn to communicate their perception of the material because that is how my students in youth ministry learned to grasp things.
I let students have ownership of the classroom a little every day because I know some people learn best when they are the one teaching.
It is how I learn.
I've read some traditional teaching books since I have been teaching. They do not describe education like I do education. And maybe that is an important thing for us all to consider as we move forward in our field. I have not had time to watch it- but Eric Sheninger has been tweeting about his keynote on disruptive leadership. I love that term. Leaders often disrupt. They often "break" a system in order to fix it.
Looking back at our list, where are we being "disruptive leaders?"
Homework- do you still have your kids do it every day? Is it designed to further their learning, or to check for understanding? Do you flip? Is flipping really "disruptive" or is it just a new technique? Does your homework serve a purpose, or is just what you do because it is expected?
Discipline- do you get upset over phones being out in the classroom, or do you use it as an opportunity to teach personal responsibility? Do you send behavior issues to the office, or do you try to create a teachable moment that builds student character along with your relationship with the student? Are there some behaviors that you discipline because YOU were disciplined for it when YOU were in school- but culture and expectations are different now?
Honors, AP, Pre-AP: Some schools are questioning the need for honors courses- but do they still serve a need? Are there students who are need more challenge than on-level, but need less than AP? Why are "bonus points" set up the way they are in your school- do honors get the same points as AP or different? Do you treat students in those classes differently than your on-level? (They have a heavier workload, so they can have more time. Or: They can do things my lower levels cannot.)
Grades: Do your grades measure your student's progress? Are we really using them to measure where we need to reteach, or just checking off OUR progress? Are tests even a relevant measure in our current educational environment? Is it fair to give retesters only a portion (75%) of their total possible points- or should it be all? Are grades as we know them doing good for our students- or harm? Could we better retest our students by having a discussion to determine mastery? Are grades themselves our best measurement of mastery? What about progress checks/standards based grading?
Why go to school 5 days a week? Some schools are taking advantage of Texas' new minutes vs days rule, and getting creative.
Here is a bold question- why does school still have to look like school at all? What if it looked more like the workforce? What if work was not assessed by a teacher, but by the target group for the project/work? Why can't a student who is accelerated really move at their own pace in a class, course, or year? Why can't students phone a friend during an assessment if they can do just that in a career? As teachers, we encourage collaboration with each other to get the work done- why don't we extend that to our students on tests more?
In the 21st century- what if the sacred desk we tip is the desk itself?
When I proposed doing away with my position with that ministry organization, I tipped a sacred desk. As educators, perhaps we fear if we let students lead in their own education too much, we become irrelevant.
"We may not need to introduce content to students as much as we need to open it up for them to see its potential depth."
I do not think that will ever happen. Our students may be able to find answers for their content from Khan Academy, YouTube, Twitter or friends, but they do not always know how to navigate that information, and how to work with it beyond simply finding it. We may not need to introduce content to students as much as we need to open it up for them to see its potential depth.
So, what is your sacred desk? Are there jobs, techniques you use that can be replaced by a better way? This is scary for many of us- and yes, there are some things that scare me, too. But the key is always this-
If I must fade so that my students can succeed, then fade I must.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, Communication Applications and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team and co-sponsor Student Council. I am an aspiring administrator.