Try Something New!

A little reading about school improvement and teacher evaluation will quickly reveal some strong feelings and differing opinions on these issues. On a regular basis, I witness what I believe is a significant part of the conflict. A deep desire to innovate is hampered by the immediate threat of failure.

We Came Along This Road by Greg Skrtic, art teacher
We Came Along This Road by Greg Skrtic, art teacher

“Failure” is determined by existing school and teacher evaluation standards that are the target of much criticism. Teachers and schools, both, can be declared failing (or “needs improvement” for the more fortunate teacher) if a sufficient percentage of students don’t achieve at acceptable levels on standardized tests. This reality varies from district to district and state to state across the country, but even in a school system, such as mine, that does not routinely consider standardized test data in teacher evaluations, teachers know it matters and it reflects on their performance. Ask an Advanced Placement teacher if it is important for her students to get passing scores on the AP exam… Well, darn tootin’ it’s important!

The conflict between this fear of failure and the desire to innovate happens at many levels. Instructional leaders, principals, teachers, and communities are interested in innovative programs and ideas…  until a school is declared failing. Then it is all about the test scores. There is no time to mess around with that new idea, because we don’t know if it will result in better scores.

In my department, instructional services, many specialists and offices work hard to develop innovative programs, but they can find resistance to bringing them into the schools that may need them most.

I wish I could say I have a solution. I don’t, but I do have an observation. The most exciting and innovative ideas I have seen really get traction come from the ground up. Grass roots.  It might start with a couple of teachers talking about an idea over lunch… and it can grow into a school wide, or district wide program.

My advice? Try something new!

Try a new activity, a new lesson, a new unit. Collaborate with other teachers. Use your professional knowledge and understanding of best practices to plan something innovative and effective. Don’t wait for innovation to come from the system, or your district, or your principal. Make something. Make it great, and show others what you are doing.

Many of you are thinking, “I try new things all the time!” And that is one of the things that makes you a great educator. If this is your inclination, try something bigger. Find a collaborator. Share with your team.

We may not be able to continuously increase the success rate on our students test scores (I don’t know how to have a 105% success rate), but we can continuously strive to find new and exciting ways to do what we love.

If you’d like to read a little bit of what got me thinking, check out The Surplus Model of School Improvement, and this thoughtful response to it: The Surplus Model and Continuous Improvement.

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