08 March 2007

Lessons Learned

My district used to belong to a consortium which supplied our elementary science curriculum. A central supply replaced consumable items and prepared kits to be delivered to schools three or four times a year. There were lots of issues with this model---especially after the state finalized its science standards. The curriculum we had was not a good match, was costly, and there would be no help on the part of the consortium...so we ended our partnership. Now, the next largest district in this group has ended its contract. They asked another specialist and I to meet with a group of their teachers yesterday and talk about the road we've traveled this year.

I have to say that visiting with that group was one of the few times I've actually felt eloquent. Thinking about the events of the last year and organizing them to share was a good exercise for me. I took some time to put things in perspective in order to talk about them.

I started by divulging the bias our district had in making our final decisions. The bottom line is that what we do in schools is about kids. Kids are the ones who are held accountable to the standards. While I know that we made some mistakes with our implementation this year...that there were things I wish had occurred in a better way...the truth is simply that I haven't a single regret about the decision to leave the consortium. More than anything else, that tells me that we had done the right thing.

We talked through our curriculum selection process, what has and hasn't gone well this year, adjustments we'll make, and plans for the future. I told them that I couldn't claim that everything was all sunshine and rainbows this year: change is unwelcome for nearly everyone and this was no exception. I also said that I didn't really mind dealing with annoyed teachers---their frustrations are real and should be acknowledged and supported, when possible. But none of the complaints this year have been about kids...that kids can't do the science, don't like the kits, or aren't learning. We'll work out the teacher kinks as long as kids are getting what they need.

There was a feisty teacher in the group. She enjoyed testing the depth of my convictions and seeing how true I would stay to my philosophical beliefs. She wanted to know just how much I understood about issues with teaching science. I liked this woman. We need teachers like her questioning all that we do...being the devil's advocate. If you can win her over in a small group, she will cheerlead for you with others.

I can see that this district has some of the same staff development issues that we do. There are some major hurdles to leap in order to create a high quality science experience a reality for every student; but, I also believe that without a vision of what can be and where you want to lead teachers, nothing can change.

We left the group at lunch and drove back to our own district, wondering where the process of selecting curriculum would take them. We didn't have to wait long. This morning, the group leader e-mailed us to tell us that they've decided to go with the exact same thing we chose for our district. I'm a bit surprised by this---not because I think we made bad choices---but rather because each district is a bit different. The strengths and weaknesses of staff are not the same everywhere. Even if the standards are the same for students across the state, there are different curricula to support them. I also found it interesting that this district chose curriculum sight unseen...something we were not brave enough to do last year.

Words are powerful things, at least in my mind. Knowing that I was influential in the decisions of another district feels a bit odd. The most important thing I learned, however, is that in spite of all the budget talk, program cuts, ugly issues, and hoopla this year...it's still about kids for me. I can see that it isn't for many people I work with, but my reason for being in education is unswayed. That gives me a lot of courage to keep moving forward.

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