Best Practices – NOT

Words Matter. Among the current words that concern me are “social distance.” I do not know where this started. It is wrong. I think what is really meant is ‘physical distance’ to avoid spread of COVID. Humans are social animals. Even introverts want human contact occasionally. Most people want to be back at work, students want to be with their friends, of course, businesses depend on people in their stores and restaurants.

Being an educator, there are other words also cause me concern. For instance, “best practice.” I usually respond with ‘for whom?’ What are we supposed to do when ‘best practice’ isn’t being successful for a student? Ignore the students because they don’t learn that way? Students know more ways to learn than we know how to teach.

Another problem I have with ‘best practices’ is that the unspoken sense that there is one best way to teach. In over forty years in education, I continue to observe increasing diversity of learners and business wanting more creativity. Do we really want standardized students? Yiddish Proverb: Beware of the prophet who carries only one book.

While I am on the subject, government and the public keep getting reports of test score comparisons with other countries. Let look underneath this assumption. I bet nobody in Germany goes to the minister of education to complain about the 8th grade math curriculum. Countries in Europe, Asia, and around the world have commonality. In the United States we have 50 states and close to 15,000 school districts with independent school boards making different decisions. And we want to compare our national test scores with other countries. Give me a break.

Yes, we need assessment criteria to better help students and staff. To use test scores to determine good or bad for a student, school, district, state, or country is not helpful, if not damaging to morale and efficacy.

‘Best practice’ seems to be used to sell books or consulting contracts. How about renaming this to an additional learning or teaching strategy to better accommodate more students in their goal to be good citizens and continue their own learning. If we turn kids off for continual learning, we do so at our own peril. African Proverb: Not learning is bad, Not wanting to learn is worse.

I believe our charge in schools is to provide a repertoire of learning options for students. That may require a corresponding repertoire of teaching options for teachers! We can’t have enough good ways to help staff and students learning. If ‘best practice’ works, great. For those who it doesn’t work for, create options for a student to learn. Yes, I know with high class-size individual plans make teaching more difficult. Here are a few suggestions

• Students can help other students
• Collaborating with colleagues to expand teaching repertoire
• Professional reading

Michael Ayers, CEO Commonwealth, recently sent me an article titled, “Best Practices and Case Studies: Be Very Afraid” by Allen Weiss. Here are a few of Allen’s thoughts that seem related to schools. Case studies are just that. An individual case. Sometimes ideas can be drawn from case studies to provoke discuss options on how to handle an issue. However, beware of scaling this up to all students, schools, or district. There are always unique issues. So, Michael has re-named ‘best practice’ to what he thinks is a more accurate descriptor: ‘locally effective practice which has evolved over time for a specific organization given its staff, its culture, its surround, and its clientele.’ The key words are local, effective, evolved, and specific. Sure, it’s longer but not nearly as misleading.

Here are some questions that might help determine the extent of the new practice:
• Do I have the same students as the research / case study was based on? It may apply to some of your students but probably not all.
• Do I have the same community resources, SES, district or state funding?
• Do the instructional staff have the same experience and expertise?
• Does this new idea fit with the overall goals of the class or school?
• Does this add a new dimension or repertoire or is the new idea all or nothing?

Bottom Line: Let’s accelerate staff and student learning by adding learning opportunities and the agility to use those new ways of learning for anyone who needs something different.

French Proverb: Children Need Models More Than Critics