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School & District Management Opinion

The New Kid in the Classroom

By Susan Graham — April 16, 2011 5 min read
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Years ago, in a discussion about attempting to influence education policy stakeholders who sometimes seemed ill informed, my friend Mary said, “We are teachers, if we don’t teach them, who will?” At the time, Mary and I were new NBCTs, and perhaps by some standards a little naive and idealistic. I suppose we’re a little more jaded after the last ten years of attempting to have a voice in education policy, but...

You know what? I’ve been wondering about why I cannot fathom the thinking of many of today’s education policymakers. They are smart people—they don’t let dummies go to the Harvard School of Business and Economics. So why don’t they don’t get it? Well, I’m finishing up my NBPTS renewal portfolio that made me consider whether I may have made a fundamental teaching error.

Teacher are committed to their students and their learning.

Teachers will tell you that they attend student events, read young adult literature, watch some pretty bad movies and TV, and listen to terrible music in an effort to get into the heads of their students. And, interestingly, they often discover that even though they may not share their students’ interests, they recognize that their taste and perspectives are legitimate. I’ve been thinking that maybe I don’t make a serious effort to understand the perspective of the economist education reformer.

I’ve decided that if teachers want to do what Mary suggested, be the teachers of our fellow stakeholders, we need to do what all good teachers do—we need to be committed to relating rather than resisting these adult learners. After all, we know they care and are engaged even if we believe there are gaps in their understanding. And we need to realize that these “students” have a lot to teach us as well. So, I’ve decided I’m going to try to add some economists to the educators on my blog list. I started by checking out The Conversation at the Harvard Business Review. Today I found some common ground with John Baldoni who, like myself, was called to task on his classroom management by a student.

A management consultant and author, Baldoni writes about teaching a college level management class and how expectations differ from his management seminars. He concludes that he needs to

Hold people accountable....If they don't have an excuse, mark them absent.

Okay, this seems reasonable and I’ve been doing that for years. Yet, those of us in P-12 education are regularly told “NO EXCUSES!” when children without food on the table, safe housing, or parental support do not meet goals. That holds true whether the issue is class attendance, performance or advancement into higher education. We can’t write off children as ineducable and we can’t tolerate incompetence, but instead of complaining that it’s not a fair expectation, let’s talk about what might work.

MY QUESTION: I agree that every child should be successful and I am open to input that will help me achieve that goal. However, I haven’t figured out how to do that with our current constraints of time, money, and people. I am unfamiliar with instances in business, medicine, law enforcement, military action or governance where demanding “No Excuses” has resulted in unmitigated success. Could you share examples of when, where, and how that has been achieved without violating personal freedom of choice?

“Baldoni also states that

Good teachers, as well as managers, know you need to be specific and spell things out.

Jefferson said that the product of public education should be young adults prepared for economic viability, social interaction, and self governance. But the specific instructions from management are to produce Adequate Yearly Progress on test scores. In organizational terms, there is mis-alignment between Mission Statement and Measurable Outcome Indicators. But when teachers point the disconnect between the Mission and the Measure, they are usually accused of being obstructionists, attempting to avoid accountability, or sacrificing the welfare of children to serve their self interests.

MY QUESTION: In order to do a better job of producing educated children, could you tell me more about how this test score will determine if the student will be a successful employee, a contributing community member, and a discerning voter?

Bladoni goes on to say,

Students, like employees, are accountable for results. They do the work and they are graded, compensated, and possibly rewarded. But too often we overlook the human dimension. Managers should insist that employees must abide by the three C's: cooperate with one another, coordinate tasks inside and outside the department, and collaborate with each other for the greater good.

Here’s the rub. Business accountability measures are a problem at the student level since P-12 children do not choose school, are not chosen by school, and must work for intrinsic rather than extrinsic reward at school. We have no tools to hold students accountable. But let us examine the position of the teacher as manager of the classroom.

MY QUESTION: Since there is no measure or recognition for teaching children to follow the three Cs (which seem to be critical skills for employability, social interaction and self governance) and there are multiple efforts to incentivize teaching with rewards and punishments, what motivation is there for educators to abide by the three C’s?

In the last few years we’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money implementing business management organization concepts in our schools. A lot of teachers think it’s all a bunch of hooey. But I like Mr. Baldoni, a business management authority who is willing to take feedback from his students and reflect on his own practice. Business people are smart; but they’re not teachers. They understand what works in their world. By their measures of success—money and prestige—they are winners and teachers are hardly in the game. When they are not winning, they move on; so when teachers stay in the classroom, business people may assume that it’s not an act of dedication, it’s a lack of ambition or skill. Witness Michelle Rhee and Cathie Black.

I think I need to order a copy of Baldoni’s book, Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up. I’ve noticed that folks in education management haven’t seemed to recognize or tap what education practitioners know about children, teaching and learning. Rather than being put out, maybe we need a more proactive approach. Maybe, we need to spend less time pushing back at the educonomists and more time inviting them in. We could use some better skills in networking and marketing our image. We need the access and money they have that we don’t. Learning what they know may put me outside my comfort zone, but that’s okay. I ask my students to do that every day. And, perhaps, once they step inside the classroom, they’ll discover it’s a little more complicated than they thought.

None of us are too smart to learn from each other.

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