Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Education Pendulum

Why does the pendulum in education swing from one extreme to the other?

When I first began teaching, I heard the “old timers” during staff meetings, PD training or workshops say things like “Here we go again,” and “Isn’t that just like…” and even, “I won’t go back to that again!” I could almost hear their eyes rolling. Being the new kid on the block back then, I thought that those teachers were just negative and set in their ways. I was sure that I would guard against becoming resistant to change.

Now I’m the “old timer” and I like to think that I can go with the flow and embrace change as it betters my teaching and engages students. However, I caught myself at a recent summer workshop saying, “Isn’t that just like…”. WOW! What an aha moment for me. After 20 years in education, you do see how great ideas are recycled and renamed. And how bad ideas are recycled and renamed. Many of those so-called negative teachers just had the insight from experience.

So why does the pendulum continue to swing? If we as educators have so much more knowledge now about how the brain works and how students learn best then ever before, then how come we can’t seem to get it right? I am baffled by this trend from government to district administration and down to the building level including teachers. Government changes standards, states and districts change assessments and teachers try to keep up. I am guilty. I thought that being on the “bandwagon” meant that I was on the cutting edge and doing the best for my students. Now…I think that having an arsenal of resources is the key. There isn’t one way or even the best way. The best way is what is best for that group that year or that individual. Maybe the pendulum needs to stop rocking and we just need to continue to learn so that we can pull what we need when we need it. No more eye rolling needed.

1 comment:

  1. Tiffany,

    Nice first post. I have been reflecting about similar things lately. First, I agree there really is nothing new under the sun. The principles of constructivism, project based learning, inquiry based learning, etc. were all present in the writings of John Dewey (1859-1952). Want older than Dewey? - consider the Socratic method.

    We've known at least tacitly what good instruction is for a long time, and now with brain research we know how kids learn best specifically and scientifically.

    I have also asked myself, "Why can't we get it right if know all this?" I believe much of the problem is systemic. I recently commented on a blog post from a book study for "Why Don't Students Like School?" by Daniel Willingham where I go into depth about what some of the systemic problems are.

    I have also been reflecting on the trend you mentioned that goes from government to district admin and on down to teachers. Here are some quotes that I have come across in the last year:

    "Internal accountability precedes external accountability. That is, school personnel must share a coherent, explicit set of norms and expectations about what a good school looks like before they can use signals from the outside to improve student learning. Giving test results to an incoherent, atomized, badly run school doesn’t automatically make it a better school. The ability of a school to make improvements has to do with the beliefs, norms, expectations, and practices that people in the organization share, not with the kind of information they receive about their performance. Low-performing schools aren’t coherent enough to respond to external demands for accountability. - Richard Elmore


    "… you cannot lead strangers, you can only coerce or bribe them." - Orson Scott Card

    Government imposed measures of accountability and the strings attached to them (rewards and punishment) are coercion and bribery. I have come to believe that coercion and bribery, which are the true nature of external accountability measures, cannot and will not lead to lasting change.

    I also agree that the pendulum does swing too far and too often in education. If education were a person being seen by a psychologist, it would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We need to focus on best practices not programs. Programs change, but best practices do not. There is no magic bullet program that is going to fix every kid. I believe that it is this search for the magic bullet that makes our pendulum swing so wildly. I think the answer is just what you said, "... we just need to continue to learn so that we can pull what we need when we need it."

    As far as the eye rolling goes... it may not be needed (or helpful), but it is often warranted and so darn hard to hold back or hide. Kick me if you see me doing it.