Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ch. 3: Expect to Get Your Students There

When I first started writing this post, I had typed the chapter name as “Expect Your Students to Get There.” I didn’t think this was such a big deal as I began to review the text, but then I realized something was very different:

  • “Expect Your Students to Get There” focuses all the responsibility on the kids.
  • “Expect to Get Your Students There” focuses on what teachers can do to help kids achieve.

Looking at it another way, the first idea puts the pressure on the kids alone. If they don’t get it, it’s “their fault.” Frankly, anyone who believes this shouldn’t be in education in the first place. And, to be quite honest, there may be times in a teacher’s career when one might drop to such a low level of professionalism. Teaching is stressful, and sometimes it’s easier to blame the kids for their scores instead of asking ourselves, “What could I do differently?”

Our society used to accept this. Used to be, if a kid couldn’t make it in a regular classroom environment, they might have taken a vocational track instead. That’s what they do in various European and Asian countries, isn’t it? Perhaps they were referred for special education services. Maybe they just dropped out and went to night school at the local community college to get their GED or what-not. Not such a bad fate. It used to be easy to get a minimum wage job and work your way up through the corporate ladder. Pull yourself up by those proverbial boot straps and make something of yourself. Our parents did it. Why can’t these kids do it too?

That dog won’t hunt today. If you’re still teaching with this mind-set, nostalgia has blinded you from reality. No longer is it acceptable to just sit back and let kids fail. Period.

Kids come to our classrooms with a myriad of background experiences and a wide range of learning styles. If you go into teaching each year thinking that every kid will jump through your hoop the exact same way – the way you tell them to – and that it’s their fault if they can’t figure out how to get that done, then what kind of relationship are you going to develop with that kid? If the child thinks that they cannot do it, many times they simply won’t try. They won’t turn in homework. They won’t come to school. They may get oppositional. They’ll fail and they don’t care, because maybe next year they’ll get a different teacher. Or they will simply drop out when they get old enough.

However, if you adhere to the expectation of the chapter’s title as written, you’re sharing the responsibility with the kids. You are expecting to work with them, as members of the same team, to help each other achieve the same goals. Kids know that you’re going to help and support them even if they struggle to meet those expectations. You’re the coach and they’re the players on your team, all working together toward common goals, and they want to be there. They want to be a part of this thing called school.

Now, let’s clarify for a moment:

  • Is anyone telling you that high standards are wrong, or that we should lower our standards for some kids but not others? NO.
  • Is anyone saying that the entire responsibility for student achievement lies with the teacher only? NO.
  • Is anyone telling you to don your rose-colored glasses, grab your pompoms and turn your class into a love-in? NO.

The point here is to take a realistic view of students and their ability to achieve realistic standards & expectations: You can’t control what every child in your classroom does or does not choose to do. You can only control how you choose to respond to what happens around you at any given moment. Professional life or personal life, the concept is the same. We are responsible for the choices we make as we respond to those around us. No one makes us do anything, and likewise, we cannot make our students achieve. Our job as professionals is to foster in each student the desire to achieve, through the way we choose to interact with them.

As the author of this book states, we have to start where our students are; we must set reasonable expectations for their progress while they’re in our classroom, within the larger view of the whole curriculum; and that WE will use our knowledge, skills, and professional abilities to help them get there.

It’s not about, to use the author’s term, making “a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” (p. 83). It’s about taking a realistic view of the situation. It’s about controlling what you can control. It’s about being a professional. It’s about doing what’s best for each and every kid you work with.

So, how do we do this?

Well, this is a team effort, right? You’re the coach, students are the players, right? How would a coach approach this problem? How would that relate to a classroom?

A coach would:

A teacher would:

Learn everything possible about the game as a whole.

Be highly-qualified to teach, and seek professional development to improve the craft.

Study the challenging team’s players in order to gain as much knowledge as possible about the opposition.

Become experts in local curriculum expectations, state standards, and assessment measures.

Get to know each player and what their individual skills were, assigning them to the positions on the team that were the best fit to their demonstrated skills.

Develop relationships with kids to learn each student’s entering knowledge/skills, developing appropriate classroom interventions as needed to support each child’s needs.

Teach each player additional skills needed to excel at their assigned position.

Differentiate instruction to provide each child with opportunities to demonstrate individual learning success and uncover needs for future lessons.

Teach routines (“plays”) to the players to help them adapt to different situations on the playing field.

Teach each student how to learn and be successful in the classroom environment.

Teach different plays to different groups of players based on their individual skills and functions on the field.

Group students when appropriate to provide appropriate challenges and instructional interventions while still contributing to the class as a whole.

Rely on the help of assistant coaches as needed. (They can’t do it all!)

Seek assistance from other teachers, principals, parents, and community members for help when the going gets tough. (We can’t do it all!)

Practice, practice, and practice those plays every day in the time allowed before the game, always focusing on how each play will eventually lead to the team’s common goal of achieving success.

Practice, practice, and practice needed skills every day, always focusing on how each lesson will help students learn the knowledge and skills needed to be successful, be it in school or in life.

After a game, they look for ways to improve their performance so they can be even more successful during the next game. Teachers examine past assessment results to identify ways to improve performance, and they teach kids how to self-examine their knowledge & skills and seek ways to improve, too.  (Metacognition)

But when it comes down to it – Game Day, if you will – the coach stays on the sidelines while the players go out of the field and make it happen.  The coach is always there, offering guidance & direction as appropriate, but the players will perform as they are taught. 

Remember the old adage: it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.  As teachers or coaches, we develop appropriate supportive relationships with kids. We tailor our approach to teaching knowledge & skills to the individual needs of each child. We teach kids the importance of how little things contribute to overall success every day, every play.  We instill in them the desire and the confidence to do their best.  We offer them all the support we can as they demonstrate those skills. 

Win or lose, the kids perform as coached, and they come back for more, looking for ways they can improve the next time around.

And that is the part that makes a good coach proud.