New Rule: Stop Pretending We Don’t Know
In 1991, Carl Glickman wrote an article called, “Pretending Not to Know What We Already Know.” As I read this again, in preparation for this rule, it is as true today as it was in 1991. Good Grief. It seems to me that most things have become political and about selling silver bullets. I also strongly recommend the book by Berliner and Glass (2014), “50 Myths and Lies that Threaten Public Education.” Each chapter has research to support the myths they expose. We need to cut through the blizzard of marketing manipulation. Berliner and Glass find the ponies in the muck.
I am starting to believe our educational leaders are not reading, are ignoring what we already know, and are more interested in maintenance and blame aversion than learning, adapting and generating new ways to respond to an ever-changing world. Quoting Glickman, “The first task of restructuring confronting our own professional knowledge is not easy, but it is likely to produce the courage to improve, at least in a few good schools.”
Reflecting back on my forty plus years in schools, K-12 through universities, I think we have been affected by the Re’s Disease. We have survived restructuring, reconstituting, reforming, reimagining, refinancing, reorganizing, etc. How about resisting what Abrahamson (2004) Change without Pain called ‘repetitive change syndrome?’ How about focusing on what works, what doesn’t work, and what are we going to do about it? How about refocusing (ha, there is that Re’s disease again) on expanding our repertoire rather than searching for one right answer?
An example is tracking students. Generally tracking does not help. Of course, like anything, Calculus BC, AP Chemistry, etc. might be exceptions. Many times tracking results in re-segregation, Re’s Disease sneaks in again. Students end up being sorted by socioeconomic status and/or race and/or culture. That may not be the intent, but it is the Result.
Holding student back does not help either. As Holmes (1990) concluded, “Those who continue to retain pupils at grade level do so despite the cumulative research evidence” (p. 78). The task of schools is not to sort and thwart students but instead to assist them to move along from year to year with the knowledge, concepts, and skills which allow them to graduate in 12 years with the prerequisites to be productive.”
Ah, consequences. Students must have severe consequences as a deterrent. Really, Rutter et .al. (1979) shows the least successful schools are the most punitive. I learned from bartending my way through the last couple of years in college, watching others steal no matter how many systems were in place. As a principal, two thousand young minds will beat the system every time. There is no system that can’t be beaten. Look no further than technology. I have had students who broke into our supposedly, fail-safe systems of technology in the school district.
In a couple of schools, I would get my best student rule breakers together. Explain what policies I wanted to change and the procedures we will put in place. My question to the rule breakers was, how will you beat this. What I really was doing was saving time, money, and energy for the staff. Let’s find out first. Put in systems that help some knowing that nothing is perfect.
This is why strong core values are important. Guns, knives, assaults, sexual abuse, drugs, alcohol, and bullying must not be tolerated for a physically and emotionally safe school in order for students to learn. The learning environment must be protected. No argument with me there.
Charles Payne (2008) wrote a book titled, So Much Reform, So Little Change. Amen. He posits that few understand the context of school. We have lots of theories, research, and judgments that are attributed to educators and schools. My invitation is, come to a classroom, engage thirty plus students for 55 minutes, and then tell me how that went for you. I am speaking to those in government, business, and judgmental people. There is an old proverb that says it is easy to tell someone else to do what you don’t have to do. Mark Twain said, “anyone who has had a bull by the tail knows five or six things more than someone who hasn’t.”
“Effective teaching is not a set of generic practices, but instead is a set of context-driven decisions about teaching. Effective teachers do not use the same set of practices for every
Lesson.” (Porter and Brophy 1988). This is why I am promoting the expansion of repertoire. The more repertoire you have the more influence you have with a greater number of students.
Students are not automatons. They want meaningful work that is relevant to their lives. They know when we assign ‘fake work.’ Sounds to me like what you want from your work? Here’s an idea. ASK THE STUDENTS. So many educators have a great heart and give lots of energy helping students learn. These professionals want the best for the students. Bring student voice into how to learn best. They will add to your repertoire. Reform with students, not to students.
“Successful schools don’t work off prescriptive lists; they work off professional judgments.” Roland Barth (1990), Improving Schools from Within, talks about the principal as the lead learner. A word to the principals and central office. If I asked your staff, on a scale of 1-10, 1-meaning you don’t know how to spell the word learning and 10-learning is in every sentence that comes out of your mouth, how would they rate you? Why would they give you that rating? Or, do you spend all your time with the ‘killer B’s?’ Budgets, Boundaries, and Buses.
Wise (1988) warns, “Many schools no longer teach reading, they teach reading skills; no longer do they teach important reading skills; instead, they teach only reading skills measured on the achievement tests.” Gee, not much change here either in 30 years.
My friend and mentor Art Costa told me thirty years ago, if you do absolutely nothing, you will be in vogue three times. He was right. It is time to wake up the deadhead thinking looking for one right answer. As I have said in past rules, quoting Angeles Arrien, “Get Up, Today is a Work Day.”