Yesterday, my colleague and partner wrote about why she believes in her instructional methods, namely DISD's MRS strategies. Her philosophy is always inspirational to me. It's pure, reasonable, and rich with dedication. I largely agree with what she has to say, but have a larger criticism of what I believe is the direction of the district. Let's break it down by buzzwords.
Dallas education is changing, but some things stay the same. Kids are kids. Rich, poor, present day, in the past, no matter what descriptor, kids have always been and always will be kids. Some are more behind than others. Some haven't been trained to be students. That said, they have to be taught and they need to learn if they want to be successful. Grades used to be something that had value in and of themselves. Growing up, I was college focused from a young age. My parents always expected As and Bs from me and I'd hear about it if I was slipping. That does not describe many of my students. I was being held accountable at all levels and in our schools that is largely flipped.
Responsibility for success and achievement has shifted almost entirely toward teachers as of late. The philosophy of "there is no excuse for poor quality instruction" makes sense, but there are a million excuses for poor quality learning. Yesterday, our principal gave us a stern talking to about how there was no excuse for failing a senior. It's about that time where our counseling staff comes by and strong arms everyone into giving 70s to seniors that have done nothing and didn't earn that "senioritis" by doing anything in their last 4 years. Before that it was attendance for credit, another sham in Dallas ISD education. In addition to those, there is DISD discipline procedures that don't help or keep DISD students safe. All of that is now blamed on the teacher, but teachers are no longer supported enough to be able to make the changes administrators want to see. We shouldn't be removing DISD teachers on a whim, we need to be supporting teachers.
Check for Understanding
MRS strategies can be a good idea. The problem is the belief that they can and will replace traditional lecture style instruction. That's still college. Abandoning that means we have given up on our kids going to college. Why do I think that? Because removing that from education means we've stopped preparing them for what they will see at higher levels. Many of our students are unprepared for the amount of independent practice DISD administrators want to see. 3 MRS strategies in 10 minutes? Not only do a number of our students not think and process that quickly, but how much teaching can actually happen in that 3 minutes between strategies? Shouldn't be a problem if the kids are engaged, they say...
Administrators harp on this word engagement in front of crowded rooms of teachers on their cellphones. I'm usually not engaged. If you can't engage me, you can't engage my students. You don't know what you're talking about. The end, I'm not listening to you anymore. Differentiated instruction in DISD is a popular thing to expect; however, differentiated engagement is not. Kids engage in different ways. Some are 100% engaged with their phone out. My DOLs prove they know what i'm teaching, but I still get yelled at. How can we get them to completely engage if we're breaking their attention ever 3 minutes with an MRS? Some DISD students can't read so videos work better. What? Not allowed to show more than 5 minutes in a class period. Sorry, i'm already breaking that rule from time to time.
We've talked about the student learning objective in DISD recently. Setting a goal at the beginning of the year and working to grow from it by the end makes sense. I'm not going to do it on your website unless you tell me why that's important and make me believe someone is actually going to read it. One of our leaders flat out told us nobody was reading ours anyway.
The point of this is to get teachers to plan. That's fine. That's good. Teachers planning is important. Should I be getting written up for deviating from my lesson plan though? If my kids don't look at or care about it, why am I in trouble for it not being on the wall? Busy work frustrates kids and adults alike. Let's trim down to the important stuff and get back to focusing on kids.
Buy in / conclusion
That was long but it's my breakdown. My philosophy on education is that all methods have a place at the table and you have to do what works for you. If you're uncomfortable you won't do as well. Does that mean you don't have to try new things? No, but if you give something a try and it's not working, you shouldn't be penalized for doing what is. You shouldn't have to worry about punishment if you haven't been trained. If nobody can model what you're supposed to be doing, your observer shouldn't be able to say you're doing anything wrong. DISD schools should be a community where everyone is working together for the benefit of the students, but our schools are divided against themselves. The direction of the district is a tear down and rebuild direction. It's not necessary and absent shining examples of success, nobody is going to "buy in" or get on board with the plan. DISD needs to stop viewing everything in education as zero sum. Increasing MRS doesn't mean decreasing lecture. Bringing in new teachers doesn't mean getting rid of veteran teachers. It's not a hard science. It's a business of people and feelings.