Saturday, February 23, 2013

Disobedience, by Design: Teaching In an Era of Stupid Rules


Sometimes, rules are stupid.

Lately, it seems like the rules dominating public education in the United States are becoming more and more about adults (and less about kids).

As we move closer and closer to the time of the year when many students are subjected to days and days of testing, I'm becoming more and more angry. Every time I hear one of my colleagues tell me "it's their job" to teach to the test, I feel like screaming. (Insert Wilhelm scream here.)

However, being angry won't change anything. But... being passionately thoughtful can generate change.

If you're a reader of my blog, it's likely that you are a dedicated, caring educator who's interested in helping students get good at life. (As compared to simply getting good at the game of school.)

So, this goes out to you, my friends. Here are 5 of my favorite ways to engage in disobedience, by design.

1. Ask kids HARD questions instead of fact-based ones. If your kids get used to answering hard questions, then they won't need test prep. If the answer can be Googled, then it's not worth asking.

2. Only grade what really matters. Are you required to spend time on mind numbing computer-based practice or final exams written completely at the acquisition level? Then, let your kids know that these tasks won't prepare them for life. Attribute fewer points (or no points) to these assignments. And, hey, if you can get away with it, stop grading all together!

someecards.com - When did testing replace learning? Maybe weighing a pig really does make it fatter. Or not.

3. Get positive press when your kids do awesome things. If you're using class time to engage kids in real, adult work, then chances are you're making a huge difference for someone. Call the newspaper, blog about it, and share your efforts with the community. A classroom surrounded by really positive PR is usually granted a little extra leeway...

4. Find out where the hard line really lies. I've worked with many teachers who vehemently believe that they must adhere to curricular pacing guides with fervor. However, when I asked the central office staff about this, they replied that it's only a guide and teachers can adapt it to their students' needs. Sometimes institutional myths emerge. If you're not sure why you're doing something; just ask. The answer may surprise you.

5. Start every administrative request with the following phrase:  
   "I have this great idea to help my kids learn..." Just trust me on this one. It's really hard to refuse a teacher who's trying really hard to innovate and help kids. It works!

Photo Credits:
http://www.opednews.com/populum/uploaded/dontread-18834-20110124-68.jpg
http://johnfenzel.typepad.com/john_fenzels_blog/images/2008/01/21/img8.jpg
http://30.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lxces1v45E1qlol3fo1_500.jpg

10 comments:

  1. I'm not much for lists, but this one is great.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Brendan. I'd love to hear your ideas about what helps you be subversive for kids. Have anything to add?

      Delete
  2. Kristen, I particularly liked how you included "finding where the hard line really lies." I am finding that there is a huge disconnect between a district's overall educational philosophy/vision and what teachers think they have to teach. I feel that there are two reasons for this: 1) Districts are doing a poor job of communicating its philosophy/vision/expectations to its faculty and 2) teachers are too busy to stop and ask so they resort to what they know and what is comfortable. I know some districts where the upper admins continually say that standardized test scores are not that important yet their teachers still drop all kinds of great learning in lieu of test prepping. There needs to be better communication and clear teacher expectations. Teaching doesn't have to be so burdensome.

    When I plan a collaborative project with a teacher, my goal is to nudge the teacher oh so slightly into his/her discomfort zone just to see if I can break down some of those walls of thinking certain things are "required." The other day, my Instructional Technology teacher and I were able to point out to one of our teachers that she already does a great project with her students that addresses one of the Social Studies standards and that she didn't really need to that second project that hits the same standard which has turned into a beast and no one likes doing anymore. When we pointed this out, she sighed in relief and replied, "I'm so happy not to have to do that project next year . . . I can have those 6 weeks back now! Thank you!" Sometimes, teachers just need permission.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love how you phrased that-- teachers DO need permission to be innovative. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this. It really helps me refine my thinking!

      Delete
  3. Dear Kristen, this one of the most refreshingly empowering pieces I've read a long while, not just for educators but for kids. When you write about those "interested in helping students get good at life. (As compared to simply getting good at the game of school.)" -this particularly resonated with me. My path to becoming a career educator began in with my abject misery of being forced into the "school game" -by law- between grades K and 11. It wasn't so much that I failed school -school failed me. However, thanks to many factors, many being familial, I never lost my love of learning. And so, determined to do what I could to save generations after me from the same fate, ironically I went into teaching. One constant for me as a teacher is to empower students to live their own lives to the fullest -to actualise their dreams. While I believe the intent of most educators is positive the home schoolers have got it right -a school system is still a "system" and a lot of teachers today are perpetuating various degrees of social conditioning - unwittingly or wittingly depending on their own level of awareness. So it's not a big surprise that many of the rules are written for we adults -they're meant to keep safe in our belief that we're in control, making a positive difference while preserving the status quo and supposedly leaving no child behind. Ha. One look at anti-intellectualism that exists in our society, the general low esteem with which teachers are held in the US, the steady decline in achievement, will tell you how valid these ideas are -myths also take on national and cultural dimensions. In any case-VERY nice to read your post and see someone asking where the Emperor's clothes went! Keep up the good (mental & spiritual) fight. ~S

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sean, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here. Although I had always been very successful in school, I had a recent educational experience where I just felt as if the system had failed me. (I ended up graduating, but I didn't feel as if I learned anything meaningful.) Then, along came informal learning and sharing via blogging, Twitter, and my PLN. It was amazing how much I was able to learn in a short time. I realized that I had stilted my learning for all those years because I had preconceived notions about what school should look like. To top it off, I think I was sharing (inadvertently, most likely) the same ideas with my students. We've got to shake things up when we can, where we can. Our current rules won't serve kids that are poised to live in a world with a completely different set of rules. Kids deserve our best!

      Delete
  4. Institutional myths! Great term! There are many possible culprits for these myths, and I've seen them develop. Here's something I witnessed from the perspective of my role at the time of a school board president. A new standard arrived at the superintendent's office. He worked with the principals to develop a school standard to address the new mandate. The principals directed the teachers to implement. The superintendent did not involve the teachers in the discussion because he and the union had a poor relationship and it would have painfully drug out the process. That's putting in nicely--they really just didn't like dealing with each other. So teachers went through the motions of doing what they were told.
    As a graduate of that same school 20 years earlier, I knew many of the teachers. In fact, they are the ones who encouraged me to run. I think they were disillusioned with me when I developed a good relationship with the superintendent. But here's what I discovered. Much to the teacher's dismay, the superintendent was (and is) very passionate about education. The teachers were also, of course, passionate about education. But the protracted contract negotiations, involvement of legal counsel, and spreading of malcontent by a minority of teachers created an environment where the superintendent and teachers could not join around their common passion.
    The myth, therefore, arose from an environment of distrust and animosity, fueled by labor and contractual disputes. I guess the "institutional myth" is that each side, teachers and administration, felt the other side was less committed to children's education. Institutional myth meets dysfunctional irony.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It seems that many people have resonated with this idea of institutional myths. I agree that all parties often have the same goals (kids), but those goals become clouded with mandates, politics, etc., etc. What's needed is some time and space for open, honest discussion and collaboration. Easier said than done, I know! Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your thoughts in this space!

      Delete
  5. Awesome post. I love your common sense approach to all of it. So few words with so much meaning! Well done!

    ReplyDelete

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...