I think most educators have a natural inclination to grow our own practice. We have the inner drive to learn more and become better at our craft. It is easy to lose that drive, however. In current times of high stakes testing teachers face the pressure for kids to look good on paper, which in turn makes schools look good on paper.
This can breed a form of competitiveness that is toxic for any workplace, but especially in schools. In one instance, educators are being asked to be team players, to be productive members of their team. They have been asked to create elaborate learning communities with their peers. At the same time, however, administrators are pushing raw numbers in their faces, comparing teachers using those numbers. This causes some teachers’ competitiveness to be placed into hyperdrive; others put themselves in survival mode, while other groups of educators start to look out for only themselves. Those numbers can become an obsession. Perception becomes everything. I am all for building learning communities with teams of teachers that can work together. Doing that, however, has to be done with compassion, and with the idea that vulnerability is an expectation, not competition.
This brings to mind a blog post I wrote a while ago highlighting Goodhart’s Law.
When numbers and the perceptions they bring become more important than our students, I have concerns. If anything has come out of the times we are living in, it is remembering to put our students and their needs first, not numbers and their perceptions.
Growing your own practice can too often get lost in the background when we get lost in numbers. Remembering the National Board’s Five Core Propositions and the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching can bring teachers, teams, and buildings out of the black hole of data and competition that drives some in education. The National Board process is truly about teaching. It is a process that puts students, families, and teachers front and center.
Cornelius Minor talks about taking what you are given, and the concept of curriculum bending in his book We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us To Be (Heinemann, 2018). He advocates for the idea of continuing to grow your own practice. I think you learn to grow your own practice and embrace the drive to be a classroom researcher all within the National Board process. I considered this in a previous blog post.
Change is participatory; teaching is about changing and continuing to do so, seeking out answers and trying new things. Yes, you have to use data, but it cannot become the primary concern. You can not become so focused on teaching to a test, that you stop the cycle of teaching for a cycle of testing. You have to be able to take on a research mentality to be successful in today’s classrooms. I believe this despite the many programs that are very scripted being pushed out and teachers being held accountable for teaching them in hopes of improved metrics.
The National Board’s Architecture of Accomplished Teaching and their Five Core propositions and the National Board Standards help keep the focus on the whole student, their families, and the teacher. They help teachers continue to grow their own practice, not sit back, and follow someone else’s lead. The process advocates using data but in pursuit of continuing to teach and grow your practice along with student learning. It is about meeting students where they are and helping them grow into the human beings we need, and ones they desire to be. Through National Board certification, I learned to look at numbers as building blocks, to student learning – not for the sake of better scores alone.