“Learning Loss?” | Steve Barkley

“Learning Loss?”

My wonderings are at that spot where several of my experiences, conversations, readings, and social media messages are overlapping and connecting. Not sure I have a clearly thought-out message yet, so I decided to share them in this blog and see where it takes me.

Reading: I just completed a thorough reading of The End of Average: How to Succeed in a World that Values Sameness. I had been familiar with Todd Rose’s description of the need for individuality, as presented in his ‘average pilot scenario.’ In 1950 researchers measured 4000 pilots on 140 dimensions of size to identify the average pilot that the cockpit should be designed to serve. When the 140 dimensions were narrowed to 10 including measuring hands, legs, waists, and foreheads, an average for each dimension was achieved. The data from the over 4000 pilots found there was not a single pilot who was average. This led to the government requiring manufacturers to create “adjustable cockpits.” Those changes led to the opportunity for Colonel Kim Campbell, five-foot-four and weighing 120 pounds to defend US troops in Baghdad and then manually land a severely damaged ‘Warthog’ plane.

Rose shares many examples in and out of schools, including his own struggles in school, that illustrate how our design and implementation based on averages robs individuals of opportunities. When in high school and thinking about being an engineer or a neurologist, he took a standardized college aptitude test. The results showed a low possibility of maintaining a B average in an open-enrollment state college and a 20 percent chance of getting into a more selective school. When using averages to create a standard, we miss the value of what Rose identifies as ‘jagged edges.” Just the way averaging pilots’ measurements doesn’t create a cockpit for a long-armed, short-necked pilot, a school’s math test probably doesn’t provide the opportunity to positively identify a student’s perseverance and slow pacing.

Regular office calculator medium-sized. Isolated on a white background, without shadows. Studio light. Conversations: Several instructional coaches are sharing with me a “pressure” that teachers are feeling to “prep” their students for the upcoming end-of-the-year state assessments. In several locations, the tests are required but districts have been told the results “won’t count against you.” These conversations describe teachers being focused on what their students won’t be able to do and the reasons that they won’t be able to do it. It sounds to me like teachers are sensing they are being blamed for student performance.

In some of my conversations with coaches, I find the coaches defending teachers for student performance. In one case I actually stopped the coaches and said,
“There is no blame here. The conversation we need to be having is where are students currently at socially/emotionally and academically. Knowing that, how do we best invest our time, resources, and energy in the eight remaining weeks of school or planning for the next year?”

On Social Media: I found this tweet by Neema Avashia, @AvashiaNeema:
Today someone asked me, “Aren’t kids going to be overwhelmed by how behind they are?” To which I responded, “Behind whom? And in what ways?” Kids are only going to feel like this if adults MAKE them feel like this. “Learning loss” is an adult problem foisted on kids.

Wow, a powerful message! If teachers are feeling defensive and sensing blame, I believe negativity is very likely to “show up” in their instructional interactions with students. Anxiousness and fear of failure certainly do not create an environment for maximum teaching or learning.

From Simon Sinek on YouTube:
Because we are social animals, we respond to the environment we are in. Leaders are responsible for the environment. Leaders are not responsible for the results. They are responsible to the people who are responsible for the results.

So here is what is coming together for me. What is the environment we want to create for our students as they return to a school building and classrooms? Teachers are not responsible for the learning that happens; students are. Teachers do need to create an environment that encourages and supports students diving into purposeful learning with high expectations and beliefs in themselves. School administrators, instructional coaches, and teacher leaders are not responsible for the teaching that occurs; the teachers are. The leaders are responsible for the environment. What actions on the part of leaders guide teachers to maintaining an ever-increasing belief in their ability to grow and impact the success of all their students? How are leaders building the collective efficacy of the staff?

Here is a starter: Make sure every student and teacher know that they are appreciated as individuals and they personally are much greater than any standard score might suggest.

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2 Responses to “ “Learning Loss?” ”

  1. Jan VanGilder Says:

    Thank you! This is an extremely important discussion. “Averaging” has always been a concern of mine. Thank you for opening a discussion.

  2. Ghania Hijazi Says:

    Your words reside with me. Suddenly, I am reminded of these words from What So Proudly We Hail,’ Developing robust American citizens involves educating the heart as well as the mind. It is not enough to understand our nation’s lofty principles or know our history; thoughtful and engaged citizens require cultivated moral imaginations and fitting sentiments and attitudes—matters both displayed in and nurtured by our great works of imaginative literature and rhetoric.’ Maslow before Bloom’

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