What Are You Following? There’s Only One Right Answer to This Question.

Archive from The Teacher Triathlete, April 10, 2016

“I just don’t feel that they need this lesson right now.  I want to follow the program.  I believe in it, but I just don’t think the next lesson is what my kids need.”

“For today’s lesson, I tweaked it a bit. I’m modifying what the book says. I hope that’s ok.”

“My grade level partners are a few lessons ahead of me.  I feel so behind. Should I speed up? I’m trying to follow my students’ lead, and I feel they just need a little more time with these ideas.”  

All of the above quotes are paraphrased from actual conversations I’ve had with many of the teachers I serve as literacy coach. I’m finding that many teachers are feeling concern over being able to “finish the program” or are “asking permission” to rewrite a few aspects of a curriculum.  

When did this happen? When did our culture of education become one in which we allowed this program or that to dictate every move we make as teachers?  

Just what are we following as educators?  Are we following the program, curriculum, or mandates from above to fidelity, or are we following our students’ lead?  Normally, I do not appreciate when one poses a question then immediately gives the answer, but I feel compelled to give the answer here… 

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 2.55.20 PMThe only thing we should ever be following with fidelity in education is our students.  Let’s be clear- there is no such thing as program, curriculum, or mandate from above that meets the needs of all learners.  It doesn’t exist.  Not to say that there are not great programs out there- there are!  There are a few programs and curriculums I truly love.  The authors of those programs even stress the importance of individual conferring, constant informal assessment, and making adjustments to fit the needs of each individual child and classroom. If curriculum authors claim their program is a cure all- don’t even bother to unwrap the cellophane it’s wrapped in. Don’t even consider it.  

However, I must say that programs themselves are not the issue.  The issue arises with the implementation of these programs.  So, how should we implement programs and curriculums to try to meet the needs of all of our students? 

Great teachers consult and pull from many resources to meet the needs of their students- in every subject, everyday.  They do not only consult one resource.  Great schools encourage teachers to think, question, and collaborate with each other to analyze student work, discuss difficult issues, and celebrate the small moments of success and joy! They encourage teachers to grow in the art and craft of teaching.  Growing does not mean following a program. Great schools do not seek out one size fits all solutions.

So, what can meet the needs of all learners?  There are a few correct answers to this question.  If I may, I do feel compelled to give the answers again… 

  • Observation & Inquiry: A dedicated teacher who takes the time to ask and notice what each of his or her students need in each moment each day.
  • Individualization: Commitment by a teacher to deliver differentiated instruction.  All kids have the right to an equitable education.  The road to equality is different for each child.
  • Flexibility: Constant formative assessment so the teacher always knows if he or she should adjust- adjust the pacing, lesson, curriculum, method, etc.
  • A relationship: Every child deserves a teacher who takes the time to get to know him or her.  Every child deserves a teacher who cares. 
  • Time: Time in many forms- time to think, time to choose books, time to read books, time to observe the world, time to ask questions, time to wonder, time to write, time to try and try again, time to make mistakes, time to freely play.

Imagine if schools across the country stopped investing one size fits all programs, curriculums, and mandates, and started investing in their teachers so they could better invest in their students? Just to reiterate, there is only one correct answer to the question, “What are you following?”

The correct answer is students:  I am following the successes, questions, inquiries, joys, and needs of my students- every single one of them, every single day.

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