Curriculum Opinion

When Educational U-Turns Are Needed

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — September 14, 2017 3 min read
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Pictures from the recent hurricanes are all around us. In so many of those photos, we look into the faces of children, being rescued, in shelters, held by strangers who are now friends. We see them in water filled streets and in adult arms, most have no shoes. We cannot know how the rest of their lives will be impacted by this experience but we are sure they will be. We heard one little girl wish for school and we know it was her wish for a return of normalcy. Most wish for a U-turn that would take us back to life before hurricanes and suffering of great losses.

It may seem disconnected but, in the last few days, the New York State Board of Regents has changed policy on standards, on testing and on teacher preparation testing. These changes have been received with applause from around the state and schools have several years to prepare before testing actually begins. It is a responsive move after long listening to input form teachers, parents and leaders. But, there are some who have invested in the previous direction who now take a breath before making the U-t urn.

Child development advocate Rae Pica recently wrote about the value of allowing little ones to be barefoot. She writes:

...you might be surprised to learn that there’s scientific evidence that barefooted is better. Among other things, it’s important to development of the nervous system and to optimal brain development as well! Turns out the feet are the most nerve-rich parts of the human body, which means they contribute to the building of neurological pathways in the brain. Covering them in shoes, therefore, means we’re eliminating all kinds of opportunities for children’s brains to grow new neural connections.

We’ve lost the practice of allowing little ones to run barefoot through the grass. Fear of tick borne illnesses and other perils has closed that door. We’ve lost the practice of encouraging barefoot experiences because of the growing popularity of getting toddlers in shoes as soon as possible because they’re so darn cute. Some preschools have developed physical activities to reintroduce students to walking through leaves, and sand, and even on rocks. U-turns don’t have to take us back to the same exact place in order to find value in what was left behind.

Bring Back Metaphor

Can we connect these disparate U-turns? Maybe. Barefoot children are often happy, playful children. Lots of little ones don’t really like shoes very much. All the resistance to common core and testing made a real difference in policy arenas and now in classrooms. Sometimes, U-turns make sense.

How can these U-turns inform the k-12 learning environment? Schools continually examine where they are in relationship to where they want to be. In that process, they have to determine their effectiveness, the practices to hold dear and those to release. That is different from what has happened over these past few decades. As change has occurred, in order to learn and change and adapt, some things have been abandoned that should be brought back but with a new spin, adapting to today’s environment. One example of that is the use of proverbs. We are not advocating for a specific unit or class or grade level. We are advocating for their use to be embedded within the school community. How do we know that this is needed? Google “A stitch in time saves nine” and you will find people asking what it means! Perhaps the abandonment of using these phrases has left us with some unable to wrestle with anything other than literal language. Metaphor and analogy are powerful and ought not be lost in our culture.

Understanding others, and communicating with learning is key to an educational environment. And if a school adopted the use of these as a practice, by middle school a student hearing “a stitch in time saves nine” will roll her or his eyes, certainly. But they will understand the use of language in a different way. Rather than hearing about not procrastinating or getting a lower grade by putting something off, their mind will be asked to rise to another place; a place where synthesis takes place and application takes place. So while you are considering change and movement forward, also consider a U-turn with an update and have everyone in the organization return to the use of these proverbs. Here are some for consideration:

  • Two wrongs don’t make a right.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword.
  • When in Rome, do as the Romans.
  • The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
  • No man is an island.
  • Better late than never.
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo by GDJ courtesy of Pixabay

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.