As leaders, do we invest enough thought in the end-user (the students) while serving our tribe (the teachers)? This is the question I have been grappling with for some time.
A large urban district I've been working with is undergoing a textbook adoption for reading. With millions of dollars allocated for purchasing, the district leaders are divided as to which materials will best serve the teachers and students. Their deadline for a decision is looming close.
For those that have gone through the adoption process, you realize that the challenges move far beyond curriculum. So many influential voices in the kitchen: Board Members, Principals, Union Reps, District and State Administrators, Community Members, Teachers and Parents.
As I've worked with this district to help them understand literacy in a 21st Century context, the leadership is quickly recognizing literacy today is far more complex than in years past, and that NO single "program" will fit the ALL the needs of ALL the learners. They are willing and ready to reallocate the money towards professional development, technology training, and intervention program in lieu of an overpriced, district-wide reading series.
A cause for celebration, right? Not so fast, folks. In this case, leadership and vision has overcome the urge for a quick fix - yet there is still a problem. The school board and teachers union is standing fast (stuck?) and pushing back with statements like these:
- "Teachers need to have a script to follow for consistency's sake."
- "Our teachers have been promised they will get materials, they've piloted these materials and will feel let down if there voice is not heard."
- "Teachers are more comfortable with a prescribed program."
- "Teachers do not have time to plan 21stC Lessons, at least this will give kids the basic skills"
Notice anything missing? Frustratingly, in these conversations there is little talk about the students!
I am desperately trying to reframe the conversations and move the focus in this way:
- What competencies will our students need in order to be successful readers in the 21st Century?
- What "program" (if any) does the best job of developing the skills and strategies that our students will need?
- What kinds of texts and genres will our students be expected to be literate in?
- Does the "reading series" represent this broad spectrum of multi-modal, multi-genre texts?
- What support does this new reading series provide for building the teachers knowledge base of teaching these 21st C competencies, providing differentiation, and addressing individual students needs?
The answer to these questions, do not exist in any single program. There is no magic reading program, there are no silver bullets. Districts who put money, time, and resources into professional development, collaboration time, and the technology that advances instruction, create significant and consistent improvement.
This particular district has a chance to be cutting edge, to put their money behind the research that matters most - putting a highly qualified teacher in every classroom.
What advice to do you have to make this happen?