“This is all nice and everything, but our kids can’t do that.”
“If schools are to be transformed into learning communities, educators must be prepared first of all to acknowledge that the traditional guiding model of education is no longer relevant in a post-industrial, knowledge-based society. Second, they must embrace ideas and assumptions that are radically different than those that have guided schools in the past.”
Dr. Anthony Muhammad started his session at the 2017 LFPA Fall Institute by displaying this quote from Professional Learning Communities at Work, written by DuFour & Eaker (1998, p. 34).
As I reflect upon this statement, I consider that this quote was written in 1998 which leads me to wonder: How much has our “traditional guiding model of education” changed in the past 9-10 years? I work in schools throughout the U.S. and I’m concerned; I continually observe the traditional model at work and truly, our traditional model is alive an well... in other words, not much has changed. Dr. Muhammad spoke about the culture being ready to “embrace the assumptions that are radically different.” He explained if we aren’t challenging the status quo and creating a culture that is deeply collaborative and reflective, we truly can’t move off the mark. In other words, we remain stuck in our old practices.
And when you really think about what remains as a result: our students remain stuck in our old practices.
Why? Why is there an unwillingness to move toward practices that are “different?” I believe this stems from two areas: fear and bias. Yes, we’re going there.
I recently took some time to examine the qualitative data I collected in the 27 schools where I have worked for the past six years as a School Improvement Consultant. I reviewed the statements made by those teachers, coaches, and school leaders who appeared to be reluctant or not interested when asked to implement practices that would be considered student centered or constructivist in nature. I noted two trends.
After receiving explicit training, modeling, and coaching, teachers’ reluctance demonstrated fear and anxiety related to practices where students were asked to collaborate on an open-ended discovery-based task. Statements were made such as, “If I let them go, I’ll never get them back.” Or “I can’t let them create something I know nothing about. I won’t be able to help if they get stuck.”
Even more concerning were the statements that revealed an unrecognized bias against students who were socio-economically disadvantaged or non-white.
The teachers made statements such as, “Our kids can’t do those things.” Or “Have you seen where our kids are from? They’ll never be able to do that.”
This breaks my heart.
A recent study described how the “enduring paradox of the word gap movement” (children in high-income homes are exposed to approximately 1,500 more words per hour than their peers who reside in low-income homes) created a “deficit perspective” and limited the learning experiences and level of responsibility released to students who are Latinx. Equitable? Not so much. Biased? I’d call it that.
The school’s culture needs to address these issues. As Dr. Muhammad explained, the school’s culture is dependent upon those who are formal (and informal) leaders within the school. Our personal limitations really do result in placing limitations on our students.
As we prepare to welcome A.J. Juliani as the speaker for our 2018 Fall Institute, we need to reflect upon our practices. This local yet, world renown educational leader will teach us how to develop student centered activities that promote choice and equity. It will be difficult to implement his suggestions within a culture fraught with limitations based upon fear and bias.
Are we promoting a culture that promotes inquiry and authentic learning? What can we do to calm the fears of those who are reluctant (or resistant) in transferring ownership of the learning to our students? How do you respond when statements are made that reveal a deficit perspective?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below. We’d love to know your perspective.
Fran Miller, Ed.D.