The Sublimity of our Ideas
“Wherever we go, there seems to be only one business at hand–that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us.”
from Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
I’ve been exploring the wave of Common Core Standards, not because we are preparing to implement them at Graded School (we’ve done excellent work with our present standards adoption through the curriculum review cycle) but because it is driving a provocative national dialogue about reading, writing, math and shifts in educational practice. Shifts in educational practice… this is what fascinates me. Putting change theory aside, what compels a leader, a teacher, a learner to change practice?
My last post on evidence from my walk-throughs does not reflect significant shifts in practice as a community. It feels fair to say that we continue to get better at what we already do… and that there are individuals that have stepped out of their comfort zone in an effort to redefine what the role of the teacher can be in the classroom. I can’t help but wonder is that enough for us to serve all kids well. And I can’t help reflect on my shifts in leadership practice.
In my role as a school designer and regional director with Expeditionary Learning, my primary goal was the replication of a project-based model that defined student success by academic achievement measures and character. This had implications on school structures, leadership practice, curriculum design and instruction. I started schools — hired leaders and teachers committed to implementing a shared vision from day one and strategically supported an implementation plan that was “field tested” in many ways. Graded has asked me to be a different leader.
I have learned to say “I don’t know know” more often – and as a result have landed on solutions developed collaboratively with teachers and leaders that I never imagined. I have clarified a commitment to outcomes (tasks with high cognitive demand, students empowered to pursue individualized learning, strategies for authentic collaboration) instead of specific practices or structures. I have learned to navigate and leverage an online network of voices and opinions that both affirm and challenge my perceptions in an effort to deepen my practices and refine my actions. I have developed a deeper empathy for readiness for change… because it has been asked of me in ways far greater than I imagined. But there was an urgency to change – I couldn’t serve the school well if I didn’t.
As much as we have in place to act as a catalyst for change in much the same way the Common Core is predicted to shift practice, we still have to make a choice to commit to change. As we move towards growing our 1:1 program through Grade 12, I recognize it is possible for teachers to instruct in some of the same ways. As we move towards implementing curricular commitments born of our review process, I recognize it is possible for teachers to sequence the same material in similar learning experiences. And after two years of focusing on assessment, I recognize some of our practices remain stagnant. But, if we get to know our students well and appreciate the future that is before them, the there is an urgency to change. We cannot serve all kids well if we don’t. It does not matter how sublime our ideas may be if we don’t take the time to re-envision the implications it has on the work that we do.