“Schools are fairly good at promoting the acquisition of information. The focus now has to shift to knowledge creation and breakthrough thinking, which support a culture of ingenuity and creativity.”  – Avis Glaze, Edu-quest International (cited in Marx, 2014, p. 309)

It’s back to school season in America, right now. Many schools are we underway and many more are getting ready or getting started. And, just as students and families have been shopping for new school supplies and new clothes, educators have been going through professional development and in-service training. Many are learning new strategies for teaching and new curriculums. They are also learning new systems for keeping attendance and tracking discipline. Examining new ways to motivate students and keep them engaged in learning as well as keeping them on-task and following the rules. They are learning systems for reporting bullying and abuse as well as tips and tricks for weaving social and emotional learning into their content classes. They are being instructed to provide “differentiated instruction” and “personalized” or “customized” learning. They are being shown different ways of gauging student learning and different approaches for students to demonstrate mastery. For example, instead of giving a multiple choice test they may be encourage to have students create projects or put on a play. It’s quite a lot to pile on their plate. Ironically, too, is the fact that teachers wil be judged on how well they’ve accomplished all of this through one multiple choice test given on one day. So, when it comes down to brass tacks, how do you think the teachers will really teach?

WHY  –> WHAT  –> HOW

Once the why and what of education are established, it logically follows to decide the how. Knowing why students need to learn something leads to defining what specifically they need to learn. And, with those two motivators, one can decide how the students will learn it. We’ve talked a lot about the impact that high-stakes, standardized testing has had on why we tell students they need to learn something (to pass a test) and what they need to learn (whatever will be on the test). With this motivation and this material, how schools teach is invariably tied to the test.

For all the lip service given to personalized learning, customized instruction, etc., in the end the students and teachers will be judged on a standardized test. It only makes sense that the how students are taught is largely standardized too. Don’t get me wrong, teachers, principals, curriculum specialists, etc. are working very hard to find innovate ways to help students learn. But, sadly, the pressures of the high stakes testing loom overhead, dangling like the Sword of Damocles , and constricting any true sense of creative freedom. Additionally, all this pressure has resulted in high turnover rates of teachers and principals alike. The how of schooling is really about survival.

Despite these pressures and burdens, many schools, teachers, and students do still succeed. Their success come in spite of the educational system, not because of it. Given this, just imagine how much more successful they could be within a system that supports an nurture true, authentic learning instead of one designed to churn out test scores. Just think how many of those failing schools and students could also experience success with such a system.

Pack Mules vs. Thoroughbreds

As I wrote in 2016,


“Our teachers desire to be thoroughbreds and we need to unleash this energy and direct it in a positive manner. Instead, we burden these racehorses, weighing them down and sucking their vitality so that they either leave or they are forced to trod along at a slow, narrow pace. [This] happens with our students as well.” (Jones & Barrett, p. 13)

The true How for teaching and learning in schools is just survival. We can do better. We need to do better. Drawn To Discover is dedicated to improving the How for learning for children and students.

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