Aya Academy of Excellence

If You Fail, I Fail

I had a parent utter similar words to a teammate.  As he awaited his turn for a parent teacher conference meeting with our team, he walked through the hallways and looked at the assignment spreadsheets peppering the walls.  The class section his son was in had a slew of failures.  To him, the value of instruction and capability of the teacher was tied to the academic results of the students.  Their failure was the teacher’s failure.

How much ownership of student failure should a teacher ‘own?’  Is the teacher accountable for the outcome of her students or just her own personal actions? Can a teacher claim professional success if her students fail?

I once heard a principal say that the teacher ‘owns’ their children.  I have also heard the collective groans from the staff in response.  What stymies teachers from being accountable for the grades their students receive?  Below is a list of issues that impede teachers from ownership of student progress and the “Now What” steps needed to reverse these conditions to enable teachers to become more accountable.

Barrier #1: Academic and Ability Gap
I played the violin in junior high school….poorly.  My skills were completely atrocious and yet, my music teacher was expected that I and my classmates were ready each winter and spring to perform at recitals. This scenerio is true for all teachers.  They are expected to perform on achievement tests, meeting or exceeding stadards, regardless of where they start. 

Now What: Differientiation
My music teacher grouped her students by instrument type – strings, wind, etc. and also by ability.  Students like myself, played parts of the piece with less complex instrumentation.  In doing so, the collective sounds of the entire class was beautiful.  Schools need to support teachers in imparting differientiation.  Collections of resources, activities and strategies need to be compiled and on tap for employment in the classroom.

Barrier#2: Effort
GIGO – Garbage in, Garbage Out.  Simply put, students who try harder are apt to learn more. Some students put forth less effort.  I played the violin poorly because I did not practice at home.  My family thought the sounds coming from the strings of my instrument were comical and it was a source of embarassament.  I stopped practicing.  Some students stop trying out of fear.  Others stop trying because they deem the learning is irrelevant.  Others are apathetic.

Now What: Character Education
Within the school culture and classroom environment high expectations are needed.  Students must know that they are responsible for meeting standards of excellence.  Students need to set personal goals for improvement as they aspire to met these goals they need to track their grades.  As each grade is assigned, they need to write a reflection explaining what they learned from that assignment and how the grade was earned.

Tantamount to setting high expectations is providing a learning experience with relevant, engaging activities and content.  I have seen many a teacher struggle with student apathy in a class enviornment in which the teacher spent the class period lecturing.  GIGO.  Droll, monotonous teacher centered classes are not engaging.  Teachers must turn the learning over to the students if they want to build accountability in their classrooms. Schools need to cultivate an environment in which a grade is earned and a source of pride.  The ‘at least I passed’ attitude is killing our kids.  Feeding the beast of that attitude are schools which set a ‘lowest’ minimum grade.  What messgae is sent to kids if they know they can do 25% of the work and still ear 50% on a report card?  Our kids are savvy enough to know that they can work the system to just get by if we allow them to. 

Schools which succeed make the effort of involving their parents in the learning dynamic.  By keeping parents informed of what they can do to provide support at home, schools enable families to play their part. Setting the tone in the beginning of the year by requesting volunteer hours, hosting parent institutes and welcoming classroom visitations is crucial.

Barrier #3: Out of Control Learning Environments
I am a sucker for ‘teacher’ movies – Stand and Deliver, Freedom Writers, To Sir With Love, etc. One of my all-time favorites is Lean on Me.  The transformation of a failing school, to a successful school impacts the lives of students, teachers and parents.  When schools are safe, organized, clean and academically stimulating everyone benefits. Conversly, when they are not, everyone suffers.  Staff apathy, student failure and community instability ensue.

Now What: New Broom Sweeps Clean
I am not a proponent of slash and burn employment practices or district gerrymandering.  I have seen schools ‘turn around’ by redrawing district lines and ‘getting rid’ of troublesome students.  In recent times we have seen that the ‘bold’ move of firing teachers who are deemed ineffective celebrated as a move to improve teaching and learning. I adore the words of Audrey Hepburn:

“People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed.”

I don’t believe in ousting people – students nor teachers.  I believe that it is our job to teach everyone – parents, teachers and students on how to effectively participate in the learning process.  The ‘new broom’ is new training, new opportunities for growth, new development of partnerships.

Over the summer, I crafted a 30 page class manual.  The exercise helped me explicity teach my students how our learning enviornment is designed.  It explained behavior expectations, listed learning tools and outlined grading practices.  It is a living document that allows for flexibility to meet challenges as they occur.  It helped me to define how I would meet the needs of my students by anticipating conditions that recur each year.  Teachers constantly grapple with what to do with the student who works ahead, the student who is belligerent, the student who turns in work below expectation, etc.  By designing a class with these challenges in mind, I nipped in the bud the issues I have year-after-year battled.  Schools must get new brooms.  The old ways may not effectively solve the new problems and in some cases the old ways never even worked.

As a school, teachers, staff and administration must be willing to openly dialogue about what needs they share and brainstorm what ought to be done to meet those needs.  Open dialogue means that everyone comes to the table to create a fluid plan that bars the words ‘we can’t’ and that seeks to have all stakeholders openly share in improved methods. Leadership from ‘the top’ is a model that is being quickly replaced by flat management in which all stakeholders have an authentic role in crafting the processes and direction of the learning environment.

Children do not learn in chaos.  Children do not learn from apathetic teachers.  Teachers need to be renewed, revived,  and redeemed.  Schools need to be reclaimed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: