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As we navigate through life, we can either travel purposely in our desired direction or we can surrender to the winds like a drunken sailor.
If we simply go with the flow and let the currents take us where they may, we may not like the place where we end up. We may arrive decades from now at a place full of regrets. And if there are important challenges in the way that we, as a society, lead our lives, prepare future generations, and take care of ourselves and loved ones, then going with the flow may not lead us to a place that we like.
Are you letting the wind and currents take you where they may, or do you have a Northern Star?
"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." - William Bruce Cameron (and on a sign hanging in Albert Einstein's office)
"What is water?" said one fish to the other, illustrating that "the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about" (David Foster Wallace). One of these realities is that we teach competencies that can be easily tested and quantified rather than what is most important. This reality may seem obvious, but why do we keep doing it? If we strive to develop student agency, can we do a better job at taking agency ourselves for what we deem important?
Arriving with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in 40+ U.S. states is tremendous pressure for schools to get results and to be masters of the Core as quickly as possible. Invoking the Growth Mindset as we accept the challenge of the Core standards will help our schools maintain the momentum and stamina we need to develop expertise.
How can schools set themselves up to cultivate Common Core experts? None of us is currently an expert in the CCSS. Expertise will emerge with classroom practice and experience implementing these standards with real students. It will emerge with the willingness to take responsible risks and to participate in collective reflection. It will emerge with strong collaboration and compassionate patience. These qualities are only gained in a risk-tolerant system through strategic, purposeful effort which includes timely, formative feedback.
3.3 million teachers will be asked to change their practices, routines, and lessons this year to align with the Common Core State Standards. That is a staggering number when you think about that many Americans essentially experiencing a major job change at the same time!
It is inevitable that with all this change, some of us will fail. We will mess it up. We will get it wrong and forget some essential component (of a standard, a lesson, a concept). Our central offices will mess up too. Trainings will go awry, resources arrive late, and support will be well-intentioned, but spotty. Are we prepared to tolerate this process and allow ourselves to take the necessary responsible risks to LEARN and grow?
I hope so.
My co- teacher, Courtney Zaleski and I teach an inclusion 7th grade class. In order to set the stage for the year, we teach them that mistakes are not only OK, they are necessary:
Ask an adolescent how they feel about making mistakes and they will be very honest (sometimes brutally so). This year, on the first day of school, we asked our students to write down their thoughts on a post it note and compiled their responses on chart paper titled “making mistakes.” The students are then asked to stay and read their classmates’ comments. Words like “dumb,” “foolish,” “angry,” and “bad” were common responses.
No wonder so many kids don’t take academic risks. Who wants to feel like that?
As the students returned to their seats, we handed them each a personalized envelope. Inside, they found a pink eraser, a pencil with “Think Different” inscribed on it (“Think Different” is our class name), and a Maichin Welcome Back Letter. We asked them to open the envelope and read the letter silently.
Does what you think about your ability really matter? If you had asked me that question a few years ago, my response would have been, “No, not really.” But over the past two years, I've changed from the negative, stressed-out, perfectionist teenage girl I was my freshman year to the joyful person I am today. Now, my response is much different.