When I started teaching, I was eager to please. I wanted to get it right: for the kids, for the cause, and frankly, to prove that I was capable. For all these reasons, I worked long, hard hours. I soaked up professional development, implemented every next step assigned by my supervisor, tried ALL the Marzano strategies, and came equipped every day with a shiny and new best practice that was going to yield results!
In “Changing Teachers, Changing Times,” Hargreaves says, “The pragmatics of acceptance by their institutions is paramount, and the teachers’ goal becomes one of being ‘judged proficient in terms of the values that govern the school, rather than bringing the depth and richness of themselves to the classroom. This was certainly the case for me. When I reflect on that chapter of my journey, I remember an absolute reliance on doing the things coaches, administrators, and experts said worked: track progress, incentivize behavior, prioritize readiness standards, “I do, we do, you do.” I also remember feeling like I’d abandoned a part of myself, like my instincts about the students I spent 40+ hours a week with were hushed to a whisper. Still, now and then, the whisper came through loud enough to hear, usually in the form of a question: Why? Why is that practice a best practice? Who says it works? What beliefs are at the root of that approach? What are the unintended implications of doing it that way? Most importantly: Why does it feel bad when I do it?
Writer and educator Alfie Kohn wrote “there is a time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea and there is a time to fear its hold over us. The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it, when it is so deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense. At the point when objections are not answered anymore because they are no longer even raised, we are not in control: we do not have the idea; it has us. “
This is what this blog is about – looking at the practices “we no longer even notice,” and asking why. I’ll consult research, critical theory, and my own teacher instincts to examine the things we accept as common-sense, common place, and sometimes even “best practices” in our classrooms, schools, and districts.