Friday, September 13, 2013

Control Issues

I'm preparing to facilitate groups of intermediate teachers from around the district who are tasked with finding and/or creating quarterly assessments.  I've put a lot of hours into this work already, spending vast swaths Labor Day weekend studying the blueprints and sample questions released over the past several months from PARCC.

Once I felt on top of the latest information, and without undue stress about the probability that what I think I know now will change, I turned my attention to the Ohio Improvement Process mandates at work in our district and pondered how PARCC and OIP can play nicely together.

The third arm of this study was to evaluate the integration of PARCC and OIP with Literacy Collaborative, our deeply intentional choice of framework for the teaching of reading, writing, listening and speaking. It took some doing but I ended up with a clear view of the coming work on common assessments.

The week after Labor Day was spent in large part presenting this vision of integration to various district leaders who perhaps have one foot more deeply planted in the land of PARCC, OIP, or LC.  It was a week of acronyms and bridge building, and satisfying work that brought us to consensus.
So far, so good.

Wednesday, my colleagues and I will gather with the teachers involved and set the stage for the work on common formative assessments.  And it is at this moment that I will hand over the control of this project to the teachers, where it rightly belongs.  Or will I?

I believe with all my soul that the creation (or curation from existing resources) of common assessments belongs in the hands of classroom practicioners, who know their students best.

At the same time, I know the time and effort I have recently put into understanding the layers of mandates and expectations. I know the multi-year committment I have to the understanding of how reading and writing work.  So I have strong feelings about what these assessments need to be in order to present teachers with useful data to guide what happens next in their classrooms.

This issue of control is fascinating to me.  One the one hand, I am not delusional and therefore I know that control of this work is not mine to keep or to give way like some benevolent monarch.  On the other hand, I have high standards when I think about the assessments that will be created.

Is it acceptable to hold on to quality control in the interest of shepherding the best work possible? Where is the line between holding high expectations and micromanaging?

I think teachers often face the same control issues.  When they hold tight control of the classroom learning, they tend to be more directive in the name of excellence.  The more control of learning they are able to hand over to students, the more likely that real learning will take place.  That learning may not look like the teacher's vision, but students will own it, and that is, without question, superior to mindlessly spitting back the teacher's expectations.

On Wednesday, my plan is to inspire the work with what I have learned, and then get out of the way!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Do Great Work

"If you're able to be yourself, then you have no competition.
All you have to do is get closer and closer to that essence."
Barbara Cook                                   

     Before today, I had never heard of Barbara Cook, but I like the way she thinks. (She's a singer and actress who's rendition of "When You Wish Upon a Star" is second only to Jiminy Cricket.)  It's over a week into September, and over a month since my last post, and I am struggling not to lose myself to the work others have defined for me.  Sure, I'm an employee and have to do the work I was hired to do, but part of that hiring decision was a certain something about me that prompted the job offer.  The same is true for every thoughtful educator.

     I must carve out time to do the work in a way that bears my signature.  For me, that means down time snuggling up with a stack of professional reading, followed by a period of letting all the ideas percolate and finally, to paraphrase a Common Core reading strand, Knowledge turns into Ideas and becomes mine.  A challenge all through the year, but particularly at the start of a new school year, is to carve out appropriate time and space for Great Work.

My new boss recommended this book and so far I am finding it to be a quick and thoughtful read, despite the title, which at first glance reads as though we are not doing enough. However, the premise is that there is Bad Work--the work we hate to do which has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, Good Work--the work that is familiar, useful and productive, yet not groundbreaking, and Great Work--meaningful, inspired, impactful.  There are quick reflective exercises with each chapter to personalize the concepts presented.  If we aren't intentional about seeking out Great Work, the Bad Work and Good Work will take over.

I daresay teachers do more Great Work than just about anyone, and they make sure to leave time in their work life for plenty of it.  Still, the wolves are out there circling, imposing Bad Work and micromanaging the work of great teachers.  We need to keep our wits about us and find the colleagues who support our growth as professionals so we can do Great Work.