Thursday, April 29, 2010

#edfuture: Party-Pushing Pressure Parameters

In response to a discussion titled The Extreme Opposite of a Critical Society is a Police State..., Dallas PcPheeters posses the following question:

How [do] you create pressure that pushes "out" from "within" the students??

Instead of viewing a "critical society" and a "police state" as opposites, both have certain characteristics that make up only a part of a complex system.  Taking the "schoolhouse" as an example, there are actors within the community that assume some of the characteristics of either extreme, enough to perhaps think of the educational environment as falling along some continuum with respect to power and control (in a negative sense)  at one end - referred to here as "police state" - and openness, sharing, and collaborating at the other - referred to here as "critical society".  But even the word continuum does little to explain the nuances of educational discourse that we find in schools.

Considering all the actors, or stakeholders, that have an interest in any give school, one quickly realizes how varying perspectives, interests, policies, etc. can both conflict and align with others at any given point in time.  That is, the network that ties stakeholders together is a complexed system that is impossible to characterize as extremes.  Another approach is to look at the educational ecosystem that makes up any given school environment to see how stakeholders are able to move through the ecosystem in order to address a common objective...say improving student achievement.  The moves required to make this happen require both a top-down and a bottom-up approach.  The question above pertains to a bottom-up approach so we'll begin there.

How do teachers create pressure that pushes "out" from "within" the students?  Looking at a K-12 school, important stakeholders here involve the students, teachers, and least initially.  The first step is that one teacher needs to begin opening up and sharing their teaching experience with others.  Teachers begin by buildling common assessments and sharing how they are evaluating their students (via formative and summative assessments) across and within disciplines.  Since most schools already have standards in place, assessment-building comes before instruction through what Wiggins and McTighe (2005) refer to as a "backward design".  Teachers still work with standards and standardized testing, but additional formative assessment practices relate more to the effects they will have on subsequent instructional practices.

Once teachers reach a consensus on what evidence they will need to make sufficient inferences on student achievement, teachers continue to collaborate on instructional practices that foster creativity, innovation, and a critical perspective that makes their learning more relevant and robust.  Part of the process of making their learning more relevant and robust involves getting their students' work out to the public.  Whether it's for their parents, friends, local community, or the world wide web, the students need to have that contact with society.  This is when the teachers begin to "create pressure that pushes 'out' from 'within' the students". 

Teachers begin to harness these educative experiences, learning from them, making them better, and sharing their success and challenges with all the stakeholders in a way that demonstrates good learning and higher achievement.  Teachers begin doing this by working with the resources they have first.  Then, when administrators, parents, community leaders, etc. start seeing results, teachers then have created a bit of "pressure" or at least some perspective in addressing whether all stakeholders are doing what they can to assist in improving student achievement.  Sounds easy enough...right?

Well, sometimes teachers are hesitant to change and if they are used to working in isolation or being formally evaluated on every move they make, it could be a challenge to open up the professional learning environment such that teachers begin learning in a more transparent way.  So while it is important that teachers take on an active role (even if it's just one teacher initially), it also requires that administrators, curriculum designers, etc. assist in creating an environment that promotes creativity, risk-taking, and collaboration among teachers.  At this point you begin to get a bottom-up and a top-down approach to change, each approach influencing the other.  

<span class="Apple-style-span" sty
le="font-family:'Lucida Grande', Verdana, 'Bitstream Vera Sans', Arial, sans-serif;font-size:medium;">Administrators, curriculum designers, teacher leaders, students, parents, and community leaders all have a distinct set of interests when it comes to the educational system that they are involved in.  They each use their power and influence to get what they need, both in positive and negative ways.  To improve student achievement, all stakeholders need to understand that the entire network or the relationships between the stakeholders remain an ongoing negotiation and should continue to strive for continual purposeful action.