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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

The Good Ole’ Days

By Peter DeWitt — August 26, 2011 3 min read
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“When I was young, the snow was deeper
and all the hills seemed so much steeper.
The crusty ice I walked upon
Would never once give in,
And every sled race that I ran
Would surely be a win.
Its’ good to see the snow again
From a child’s point of view,
Because what you see is different
When you’re a bigger you”
(Moira Fain, Snow Day).

This summer, I attended a training for school leaders at Questar III Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). BOCES offers many resources to educators in New York State. We have Questar III and the Capital District BOCES in our area depending on which side of the Hudson River that your school falls. At the training, Dr. James Butterworth, our facilitator from the Capital Area School Development Association (CASDA) challenged us to think differently, and we explored examples of great leadership. Jim also talked with us about the good ole’ days.

He asked the nearly one hundred administrators to raise their hands if they have been in education since the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s or the new Millennium. The very age-diverse crowd raised their hands for various decades. Some were embarrassed because they felt old and others felt embarrassed for being young. He talked about things like mimeograph machines, photo copiers, overhead projectors, blackboards, whiteboards, and Smartboards. We all laughed when we compared which computers we had in our classrooms, and some of my colleagues at the table remembered when they didn’t have computers at all (No worries, I won’t name names).

As I get older it makes me reflect on the good ole’ days. I began teaching right before the standards movement in the mid-90’s and I had a chalkboard. I never had a whiteboard, which was fine because the marker always smudged my hand because I’m a lefty. It made me realize that many of our younger colleagues only know life with high stakes testing. It made me wonder what our students will think the good old days were when they age like the rest of us.

Do they play outside enough that they’ll remember afternoons when they played hide-n-seek or going to the field down the street where they played a child-organized game of baseball? Or will they only remember playing games on their computer? Perhaps I’m just jealous because I only played Pac-Man and Pong but I hope they remember long summer days of swimming in a river or sledding down some big hills during the winter. As Moira Fain eloquently wrote, “what you see is different when you’re a bigger you”.

What about in school? If testing is all some of our best educators know, then clearly that might be all our students know as well. They don’t remember when fourth grade offered hands-on learning and the most difficult test was the one your teacher created, which you could do over at recess if you didn’t do well the first time. They understand test-taking anxiety better than any of us because they have learned it at the young age of seven or eight.

When I think back to my good ole’ days, it has nothing to do with testing. The good ole’ days for me was when I walked into my fourth grade classroom at Queensbury Elementary School and saw Mrs. Flynn smiling in the doorway greeting us every morning. We only had three television stations to choose from, so my good ole’ days involved going outside and playing with my friends until it got dark and my mom yelled for me to come home.

Our reality is that we have high stakes testing until politicians and state and federal education leaders understand that we can assess students in other ways. However, what can we do in our classrooms and schools that get them excited about education? I have seen great examples of project-based learning that I know students will remember. I have also seen positive and engaging interactions between students and teachers that students will remember forever.

I truly hope that, during the times of high stakes testing, we still find time every day to provide students with quality interactions, and creative lessons that spark the imagination, so they have as many good ole’ days to look back on as we do.

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Fain, Moira (1996). Snow Day. Walker and Company. New York.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.