Several months ago I wrote about embracing risk-taking in our schools (here, here, and here). Wanting to show my confidence in our teachers and to encourage risk-taking, I talked to teachers about stepping beyond their comfort zones. I attempted to ensure teachers that risks were not just acceptable; they are desirable.
After a couple of initial conversations, I realized one of the largest impediments to risk-taking was—and is—our state standardized tests, the SOLs. Teacher after teacher commented, “I’d like to try something different, but the SOLs.” With so much emphasis placed on SOLs from the federal, state and local governments, school administrators (including me), parents and students, who could blame them for not wanting to diverge from the state’s curriculum?
The teachers’ motives made perfect sense? I don’t want to be the one responsible for a student not passing the SOL/earning their advanced diploma/graduating. Hard to argue with logic like that.
Only a couple of years removed from teaching, I too fell victim to over-emphasis on standardized tests. Now I had to plead to the teachers to do what I said, not what I did. To best move teachers—anyone for that matter—I’ve always found it best to ask questions instead of preach to them. Below are some of the questions I asked:
1. Why did you enter teaching? Not so amazingly, none of the teachers said, “So I could teach a prescribed curriculum and my students will ace the SOLs.”
2. What is it that you want students to get out of your class?
3. Where’s your passion?
4. How can you pass that passion on to your students?
5. What would your students say if you tried something different?
6. Tell me about some of your most successful lessons and what made them successful.
Most of the teachers seemed to enthusiastically embrace risk-taking and the idea of going beyond the SOLs. I promised to support them. Undoubtedly, failures will occur. I ended each conference with a simple message, “I’m going to support you and I look forward to working with you and seeing the changes.”
Now about those standardized tests...