Balancing the Voices in Education
A clear call for change from society as well as the educational community has occurred and is reflected in the literature and the media. The educational community as well as the community of learners at large, have done many things to try to answer that call. Relative to this, a recent interview with 12 teacher leaders (Teacher, 1993) probed for ideas about educational reform. There were 33 constructive changes suggested in the course of that discussion. They fit naturally into six categories as follows:
Obviously these ideas represent a great many skills as well as large and diverse areas of expertise which would need to be addressed if we determined they had significant value to augmenting the mission of education. This material will address how we might prioritize these ideas and determine their importance to the mission to educate. The course material will also address the development of these skills and the necessary components which would be necessary to provide a working educational model and a mutual recognition by teachers and society of their place and importance.
It seems important to maintain cognizance of the following in our work at prioritizing and further developing an enhanced vision of education.
An integrated teacher development system could be developed which address all the growth areas mentioned and also meet these five points. The following design is suggested to implement this process. First, that we create a a cadre approach - professional educators who are working as a team. These professional educators would be people who are self selected as well as chosen by the group who spearheads implementation of the educational reformation. One of the first areas to be addressed would be a common philosophy and a mutual understanding of the dedication required to bring the task to fruition.
It would be critical for there to be an understanding at the outset that there would be both professional and personal growth expectations for all educators and that these would be intertwined. It then needs to be understood that if real learning and change is to occur, if teaching behavior is to change, that is really change, then the same kinds of learning experiences and settings need to happen for teachers as we are suggesting be implemented for children. These changes cannot be legislated, they cannot be accomplished through lecture. They will need to occur more as the bringing to life the spark which the teacher already has, the guarding of the spark by that teacher and fellow educators as that spark flames forth as a bright light and takes on life. Then together each person on that professional educational team will tend the points of light and growth, those potentials for greatness and deeper understanding of the mandate of educators until they are fully developed and intertwined in brilliance and potential for illumination.
For this to occur the empowerment, that is the ability to implement, to evaluate and to determine when intervention is needed will need to be in educational hands, and the empowerment for this model must come from the broad base of the teacher as professional. It is important to underscore that there is no way to legislate the kind of change that is necessary to develop this new format for teaching, this enhanced format for an educational system. It will need to be propelled through the recognition of teacher as professional, the desire of teachers to take on the mantel of professional. We recognize education as an art and a craft and validate those elements of teaching as crucial to educational expertise. This does not mean that we will devalue or fail to check for an educational knowledge base, but it does mean that there will be many forms of growth, change and development which we have not previously recognized as inherent to the role of educator and which may also be inaccessible to contemporary and typical formats of measurement and evaluation. The suggestion that great teaching is an art and a craft would, in itself provide a point of departure from current thinking. Before we would be able to measure for the existence of the craft, it would be essential to cultivate a medium for discovery of the components of such an art form and pursue its possibility. Later we might pursue forms of measurement, such as outcome based evaluation processes.
It will be important to view this entire quest as developmental in nature. Mastery teaching and learning will be the outcome of this process. It will not be an immediate result, an obvious cause and effect set of skills to be measured and quantified. Part of the challenge will come in viewing progress in less behaviorally oriented and immediate terms. In fact, it may be that the reverse it actually the case. As the skills develop, so will come the recognition of ways to prove the changes are occurring and the impetus of the part of practitioners to demonstrate those skills in creative and substantive ways. We have a tendency to look at every set of phenomena from the Lockean or scientific perspective. Many times it is neither wise nor justified. Certainly as we work to develop the art, the essence or great teaching, it will be to our advantage to let the findings flow out of the practice rather than insisting on quantitative research as a measurement of success.
Over time the journey to become great in the ways of teaching, to define and explicate will occur.
The ability to view educational expertise and practices in a different light is a crucial and integral part of moving toward positive change in education. Although we frequently say that we believe individuals have different skills and areas of expertise and that we want to value and validate that individuality and uniqueness in students and educators, in point of fact we frequently devalue those things through looking for a set of observable and measurable gifts or behaviors which we have determined to be important. Thus, in the past we have taken peoples strengths and weaknesses and tried to bend them to meet our own needs or goals for an institution rather than recognizing them as important and valuable in and of themselves.
This translates into practices which may be destructive. For instance, we can take a teacher who is very loving, nurturing, gentle and say to that person "your style of teaching is not functional for children. In this district we are interested in high scores and a down to business demeanor." Suddenly, an excellent, perhaps master teacher, is faced with acquiring sets of behaviors which are antithetical to his/her native personality and philosophy for working with children. In order to be true to self this teacher will not be able to receive high standing or advance financially in the district. In this hypothetical case, rather than recognizing the teachers expertise in nurturing and a natural bent to work at the childs pace, this teacher must attempt to develop skills and a way of performing which are neither natural nor ideal.
This is not only the case with educators, it is also a prevailing concept in working with students. Rather than recognizing talents and gifts, of nurturing and developing the individual students, we determine a general way of being for all students and then set about molding and forcing young people into that way of being regardless of how destructive or inappropriate those goals may be. We overlook natural abilities and force them into a semblance of what or who they will need to be in order to go on to college or meet district or State testing standards. Similarly, we set up a course of study, a predetermined set of requirements which have nothing to do with individual gifts, expertise or modality for learning.
What this means at the present time is that we have a significant drop-out rate, we have more than half of the students who are performing at "get by" levels and who take little or no delight in the pursuit of learning. The majority of students either do not learn of their natural talents or are taught to ignore or depreciate them. If there is awareness of the natural gifts, they are developed in keeping with system wide goals or subject specific objectives rather than as a true manifestation of joyous recognition of aptitude and individuality. Instead we work to produce graduates who are die cut representations of what looks good on SAT and State mandated achievement tests. We develop students who are compliant and who bow to authority rather than thinking for themselves or feeling confident in expressing or establishing personal viewpoints or envisioning and pursuing personalized goals for learning and thinking. Rarely will a district set a program which allows students to be self determining. Few indeed are the teachers who encourage students to make personalized learning plans or who assist students to work to establish an individualized course of study.
It is a rare occurrence to see a classroom, regardless of age or ability, which is not teacher centered and teacher directed. As long as that is the case, students will not feel a sense of ownership and will not work at potential. As it is in the classroom, so it is in the school. The majority of teachers feel as disenfranchised about their own personal growth and talents for teaching as they keep the students. The model holds true at both levels. As long as educators continue to believe that they can mass produce students as learners and thinkers, people who will be good citizens and tax payers, who will take a place quietly in society, there will be a systemic movement to mass produce teachers. Those who come quietly and successfully through the educational system often turn around and become teachers. They in turn carry with them a set of expectations that success as a teacher means getting their students to come quietly and successfully through the system. These sets of behaviors are not a measure of successful education and they are not working to move our social systems forward.
We cannot and should not make of each teacher a Madeline Hunter, a Lee Canter, an A. S. Neill. We cannot and should not force any human being to become a kind of teacher which is an antithesis of the person. Some teachers are good humorists, while others seem to try humor and find sarcasm. Some can sing and charm youngsters, others sit in a rocking chair and mesmerize listeners. Some can make arguments of logic, quote poetry, develop a diatribe. Some make every day of Lincolns presidency a worthy study, others find a way of sawing through statistics to the bare bones and helping us to find a responsive appreciation in the numerical journey. What we can make of each teacher is an expert.
"Expert" needs to be redefined and in the defining, we need to address what the pinnacle of education might be and what a professional educator would look like. The educational system has been highly competitive so we have mirrored that in searches for a "best" teacher, teacher of the year. Instead of looking for one teacher to represent the best possible practice and thus be defined as expert, we need to move to a more team oriented and cooperative perspective in teacher expertise. We might legitimately look for a group of teachers who worked as a team to change student lives or a systems quality rather than one individual to shine forth. In a cooperative stance, much like a piano key board, each teacher would be expected to develop a set of personal and team goals and expectations for personal, professional and team growth. From those goals the team would work together to assist each other in meeting and monitoring the development of expertise.
Thus an expert would become an integral and differentiated member of a team which possesses expertise and which builds on collective strengths to build education and to address the individual needs of students enhance the social system of which they are all a part. The teacher teams would then provide the school system into a well developed, multi-dimensional highly articulated group of professionals. The emphasis would change from giving individuals merit pay and advancement based on their ability to scale above or beyond another teachers abilities. As we change the way in which we show value for and validate expertise and personal skills, we would lose much of the "my little kingdom" perspective. Collaboration and cooperation could become essential and viable tools because they would lead to the ability to add dimension.
It is important to note when we begin talking about making changes, that there are many people who are frantic about how the changes would impinge on preparation, on perception of capability. Some of the concerns are face-saving, some are genuine concerns about the worthiness of "one more educational swing". Some are based on the very real fact that many of the cooperative and collaborative skills being suggested are new concepts and call for expertise which has not been shared with classroom teachers. Most educators want very much to please and to fulfill personal dreams of helping others and building society, and their concerns center around the ways that they can learn the new formats, manipulate their own behaviors to develop the preferred new skills and facilitate implementation of the new concepts.
Administrative concerns are also viable. As teacher behaviors change there is a ripple effect in the system. Administrative roles and skills would also be dramatically altered in response to a more cooperative team oriented type of management. New areas of expertise would need to be developed to complement the expected changes in teacher behavior. Quality of educational expertise is one of the foremost concerns which people address when we talk of change in education. There is a natural human reaction to believe that if we stop using a competitive system where we can easily compare and thus measure who is best then there will be a drop in expertise or a lack of quality and quality control. Although this is a natural fear, there are centuries of examples which can be enumerated to prove that these concerns are unfounded. Perhaps one of the fastest ways to allay this concern is to suggest the idea of the symphony.
In todays world there are many areas in which quality has diminished or become less important or less apparent. This is not true however in the symphony orchestra. One of the places where high quality, expertise and rigor are very much in evidence. Rigor and structure are not only demanded, but forthcoming. One person stands at the helm and directs and calls forth expertise, developing an esprit de corps which provides for an intermingling of skills, capability and quality in such a way that the performance occurs. In that performance a score is articulated is such a way that the musicality of the piece if brought forward and the genius of the composer is reproduced and rendered so that listeners and performers alike share in a peak experience and share in the wealth of talent and expertise.
A very real part of the musicality, of the quality of the symphonic experience is the ability of each member to maintain their place in the music, to watch and respond to the conductor and to provide their very best effort at each point when they are called upon to perform in the score or to present a solo work. When musicians are not performing a solo in the work, they are expected to give an ultimate performance - to play each note musically, on time, in harmony and as a true reflection of the artistic expression of the work. There is a natural camaraderie, and natural teasing that goes on as a part of a well honed symphonic group. For instance the percussion section may be silent for 20 or 30 minutes during a piece. A harpist may play only intermittent pieces during a performance. The oboe may be called upon once in 45 minutes to quack like a duck or play a short plaintive melody. The French Horn section may be divided up with the lower sections playing umpah, umpah to an off-beat pattern while the first chair plays solo selections. The strings, meanwhile are playing constantly every measure. In a well developed symphonic group, the strings do not fight and become angry because they are playing during the entire concert, nor do the brass or Timpani players fight because they have been out played and given few solo opportunities.
As we talk about this orchestration there is a parallel to be drawn. A similar setting occurs in the well developed school. There are a number of master teachers, each fulfilling a calling, each expressing the self in a fine performance of individuated expertise. All of them work together in concert with a team to provide a performance. The educational system provides the best possible opportunities for the children to grow, to develop, to become who they are. The educational system can and must change in radical and appropriate ways in order for the best possible performance to occur for children.
As it is true that some people are fine violinists, so it is true that some teachers will become the concert mistresses and masters while some will direct the orchestra and others will sit in the background and play muted lines. Not one of these people will be given less money because they have a particular part to play, nor will they be valued more or less. Not one person will be devalued because as an integral part of the whole, their part is admirably represented. The array of teachers in the fulfillment of this orchestration will provide each with the opportunity to be a best self, to give what talent and gift they have, will touch certain lives, meet specific needs, give of themselves wholly and with expertise. This will translate into a highly structured, highly articulated group of people who work as a team, who value each other and who are valued for their skills and expertise.
Thus we will see the school system becoming a true system. We will see an explosion of interest, energy and expertise brought about through the valuing of each member and their skills and abilities rather than the devaluing disenfranchisement of teachers due to unrealistic expectations which do not coordinate with their gifts. In order for this to happen we will have to change the mode in which we evaluate and provide remuneration for teachers. Rather than looking for a career ladder we will be looking for a compliment of people who have the ability to bring out the best in each other and in their students. We will be looking much more for an orchestration of teachers, a key board of complimentary skills and talents than for a few isolated and outstanding soloists. As is true in any system, as soon as we change one modest concept, as soon as we say that teaching from now on will be a cooperative rather than a competitive process, we begin to recognize that there would be a change in the way that administrators viewed teachers, ways in which we evaluated what a teacher is doing and who a teacher is as well as what they have to offer a system. As these changes begin to occur, it becomes obvious that the evaluation procedure for teachers would have to change markedly.
It would no longer be possible to utilize a set of student scores or achievement test marks to determine a teachers marketability. Instead we would have to revamp our view of good teaching. Further, we would no longer be looking for one outstanding teacher and what that one person could do for children. Instead we would be looking at the impact of a team on students and student learning. We would begin viewing teachers as a team of educators, a complimentary set of roles. We would be more interested in how the team cooperated together, how they complimented each other and worked for the best interest of the students and the community. We would look for a validation of a team effort rather than keying in on one sole contributor. The role of the school administration and school board would change from a group of people who judge and evaluate to a group of people who orchestrate, develop and maintain a teaching force.
Again, the concept is complex, interrelated, intertwined concept and the realization of those things could best be measured by the competence of the entire system not the competence of one or two teachers. It is singular to note that the system is evaluated in this fashion at present. Although we occasionally direct attention to one or two teachers, for the most part, dissatisfaction is more generalized to the system than to any one or two educators or administrators. The teachers would no longer be the focus of the evaluation process, but rather the entire system would be judged on outcome, expertise. We would focus on who children are becoming as a result of the time in the system rather than pointing to an isolated set of scores. The final performance would become much more important than one or two isolated testing experiences.
The symphony concept is also a vehicle for explaining the importance of moving from the competitive to the cooperative team approach to education. Systems theory pointed out one crucial concept that is a part of these ideas. One change in the system will effect all parts of the system. It is only necessary that we begin in one place - with the role of educator, to effect change in all parts of the system.
E-mail J'Anne Ellsworth at Janne.Ellsworth@nau.edu
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Course created by J'Anne Ellsworth
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