Saturday, January 30, 2010

When Goals and Practices Collide: Part III

In Part I: When Goals and Practices Collide, I described a practice at my school where kids get recognized for achieving a score of "proficient" or "advanced" on district benchmark tests. I asked some questions about the impact of this practice on students.  I also asked readers about their impressions of such a practice and I thank those who responded.
In Part II, When Goals and Practices Collide I examined some of the practices and strategies my school is using to address and reduce our achievement gap. I wanted to hear what readers thought I should do before I shared what I have done thus far to address the issue. Thank you to those who responded and helped me think more critically about the issue.
In this post I will share about the actions I have taken thus far and ask for your input on what to do next. I do not want to be silent, yet I must also keep my job. And yes, I do have tenure.
Last year, I voiced my concerns when I heard we would be having "awards assemblies" for 2nd-5th grade, based on district benchmark tests. My principal's response: Don’t worry, we will work out the kinks next year and everyone will end up getting an award. Those who don't meet the advanced or proficient category will get a "rising star" award when they show growth. My thought: Won't everyone know that rising star means  "proficient wannabe "? I let the issue go when I realized that I would need to do some research behind this practice and see if I was totally off-base. Besides, it was the last quarter of the school year and no one else seemed to be upset about the issue.
 Fast forward to this year: As pictures of classes were added to the “achievement wall”  and I scanned the pictures, counting the kids, I realized that only the “award winners” were pictured with their teachers. Since I don’t attend these ceremonies ( as  a K teacher we don’t get invited) I can only imagine the looks on the faces of the kids who are left out. I have also asked some teachers who are present and they all say the same thing: the kids left out are disheartened and marginalized by this practice. Do they say anything or stand up for the kids? Everyone seems afraid to speak. ( and that is me making a generous conclusion as I am angered by the lack of courage and authenticity among my peers. It bothers many, yet no one speaks?!)
I took some time to reflect on my anger and frustration with this practice and decided to ask my principal for a meeting. I emailed him asking for a time so that I would not "chicken out" and remain a quiet objector. I decided to begin my questioning with something administrators love to talk about: research and data.
  I asked about the research behind awarding kids medals for reaching a certain number score on a test. He mumbled something about how the practice of  recognizing kids increases motivation.
I then asked about the pictures.
His response: The pictures just happened. A parent was there taking pictures and suddenly there were class pictures and they were up on the wall.
My response:  I could feel my blood pressure rise and my mind begin to race as I hammered him with questions. Do you know the impact of kids walking through that cafeteria, realizing that they are not in the pictures with their teachers? Do you know the impact on their younger siblings who now think that their older brother and sister is not smart? Inside me, a little voice was telling me to "shut up" but I couldn't. The words just shot out of my mouth.
His answer: I really hadn’t even thought about the impact. You make a good point, but it’s done now and we will have to consider it for next year.
My response: NEXT YEAR?  I must say that my inner voice was screaming obscenities at him for being so mindless and allowing a practice to impact kids in such a big way but " not thinking" about the consequence. Being in total shock at his revelation of ignorance, I mumbled something about it not being too late to change for this year. I told him that I hoped I would still have my job after voicing concerns and he laughed, saying that he needs teachers who question.
Really?  If he really wants teachers to question him, then why must I write this blog anonymously, venting here instead of making meaningful change by mobilizing fellow teachers and parents.  If he really wants us to work together to solve this issue of the achievement gap, then why does he rarely open the dialogue in staff meetings so that we can question decisions and come up with solutions?
I have spoken with a few parents of my former students who are upset about the practice, though a bit reluctant to speak out. I assure them that administrators often listen to them more than they listen to us. If enough parents object, will my principal take the pictures down at least? Or insist that ALL students are in the picture? There are students, including special ed students, whose name will never make it on that wall. If that is the case, then how are we promoting equity at our school?
I ask a lot of questions. I wonder if I am just in the wrong school for me. Are there other schools out there using similar practices and kids are growing and thriving at school?
Thanks for taking the time to read and I hope you share your pearls of wisdom.


  1. I experienced a similar situation in a charter school. Students hadn't been provided a recess period (study session during that slot), nor were they given a formalized phys-ed program--all contingent upon scoring in the 3 and 4 rubric category on state assessments.

    Students were literally "hung out to dry" in a public forum if scores and writing didn't reach desired levels of achievement as prescribed by the building leader.I was mortified and in emotional pain over what was being done to these kids.

    I had gone to the administrator and to my colleagues, lobbying for a phys-ed curriculum that was not attached to scores. It is my belief that movement encourages brain activity. To me, a phys-ed curriculum should be axiomatic--it is healthy for the mind and for the body (mind-body connection), and clearly, it should not be attached to scores. Sir Ken is so right, we all need a recovery period from our educational experiences (include the teachers too).

    Anyway, the long and short of it was that I chose to leave because my philosophy was not aligned with the agenda of that learning organization. I was able to afford that move, but in this economy, I advise others not to do as I did.

    Instead, support your students the best way you can until you can possibly move to another school or wait until new leadership moves in. Today, mobility is rampant and maybe a new agenda will be put in place.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your advice. I couldn't agree more about the value of physical activity and I love Sir Ken Robinson's TED talks and book.
    We have a new superintendent coming in actually next week, so perhaps some change is on the way.
    Thank you for taking the time and inspiring me to keep fighting the fight. I don't want to run away, but evoke some change to benefit the kids I work with (and those I used to work with) every day!

  3. I disagree - You should not stay in a school where you cannot stomach the practices that marginalize children. I do not condone moving without finding another job. But if you are passionate about all students, as all educators should be, this type of behavior is unacceptable!

    Kudos for your actions! I applaud you and hope that all my teachers share your vision.

  4. Thank you so much for your input. Tomorrow is another "awards assembly" and I am literally feeling ill about the effect that this will have on the kids who are struggling.
    I hope to find a place where I can do the most good. I am a passionate advocate and I do fear that staying at this school will lead to burn out. I would never leave without finding another job!
    Thanks again for the validation from an administrator viewpoint!