Scaling Teachers Up or Cutting Them Loose? - Steve Barkley

Scaling Teachers Up or Cutting Them Loose?

I was recently facilitating a conversation with K-5 administrators and instructional coaches regarding the learning experiences they wanted students to be experiencing. At one point, someone said that they would have to “scale teachers up” for this to happen. In a few moments, someone else suggested that it wasn’t about “scaling up” but more about “cutting them loose”.  What do you think? Some of both?

One of the items I shared to generate thinking about desired learning experiences was a video clip  of Todd Rose titled the Myth of Average. Rose identified a study of pilots that set out to identify the average pilot body build that the cockpit should be designed around. The problem they identified was that there is no average. Not one single pilot met the average on each criterion. Therefore, the cockpit needs to be designed for the edge…. the outer limits.

In an interview , Rose was asked, “How does it hurt if we design for average?”

When it comes to designing environments, it hurts us in two ways.

 …..the first is that you can be incredibly talented in one area, but average or below average in another. For example, say you’re really gifted in math, but you are an average or below average reader. The way our education system is designed will make it very hard for us to be able to get at your talent, because even in math class many of the problems are reading problems, so the reading problem can mask what you’re really good at. 

……. the second way it hurts us is that someone can be unbelievably gifted in something, but their environment won’t challenge them because it’s teaching to the average. They end up getting bored and doing only what they are supposed to. In this way, designing environments to averages ends up hurting even our best and brightest.”

So if we wanted classrooms where “teaching to the average was banned” do teachers need to be scaled up and/or set loose?

What skill sets do teachers need? In  Personalized Learning Requires Effective Teaching First, Technology Second, Patrick Ledesma suggests:

  • In order to “leverage student interests, one must first know the interests of their students and know how to act on it.
  • Teachers should be able to implement multiple paths to knowledge- having a variety of ways to help a diverse group of students learn rigorous standards.
  • This means having more than one resource or activity to teach a lesson and meet a goal or objective.
  • Teachers should be able to differentiate instruction, find all opportunities for remediation to help struggling learners, and understand how to provide enrichment to challenge the advanced student.
  • Manage student learning: teachers will now have classrooms where multiple activities may be occurring at the same time, this requires a level of classroom management, data keeping, and use of a variety of assessments.

In what ways, must teachers feel “set loose” in order to ban the average?

I frequently hear from teachers that a “pacing guide” is preventing them from addressing the needs of individual learners….. a pacing guide designed for the average time for learning. School leaders need to establish for teachers whether the “guide” says where to be when or provides a framework for teacher’s decision making.

In What Research Says About. . . / Pacing Guides,  Jane L. David states:

The best pacing guides emphasize curriculum guidance instead of prescriptive pacing; these guides focus on central ideas and provide links to exemplary curriculum materials, lessons, and instructional strategies.

Guides like these embody what many experienced teachers do…. They chunk it, put topics in a sensible order, determine what resources to draw on, and develop a good sense of how long different elements will take. They also allow for some unpredictability depending on their particular mix of students.

Constructive pacing guides assume differences in teachers, students, and school contexts. They adjust expectations through frequent revisions based on input from teachers. Most important, they encourage instruction that challenges students beyond the content of the test.

How do principals and coaches provide the professional learning for teachers to be adding skills to their repertoire and sense continued autonomy to make decisions that maximize student learning. I think the key is continuous reflection on student production, learning behaviors and learning outcomes. …less attention on teaching and more on designing for learning ……designing for the outer limits.

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