03 March 2007

That Old Schizophrenic Feeling

It's the nature of my job to be involved with different groups of teachers and to wear multiple hats. In any given week, I have my beginning teachers to monitor, ten grade levels of new science curriculum to support, and various other Curriculum tasks/meetings to work with. But I think Thursday brought those together in a new way.

I went to an inservice with Jay McTighe on Understanding by Design (UbD) with Differentiated Instruction. Three of my Curriculum colleagues were there...I had most of my 7th grade differentiated curriculum group...a beginning teacher and two mentors...two other science folks...and some elementary representation from the district. The conversations at each break felt a little surreal as I interacted with different groups. Ninth grade teachers wanted to talk about their new Curriculum. Elementary wanted to talk about some training I'd delivered. Seventh grade wanted to talk about the work to do over our next four meetings. And so on. I was aware that some of the groups would be there, but for me, it was like being at the center of some Venn diagram from Wonderland. I found it distracting, in some ways, not to be entirely representative of one group...not to have a single lens for filtering the information.

The best thing from the day was simply some time to process with someone from Curriculum about how UbD might (should?) apply to our staff development and also the school improvement process. Our department has lacked focus this year---we've had to be more reactive to all of the upheaval in the district as opposed to being proactive about working with staff and students. I think that part of the power in UbD is that it helps articulate vision in a purposeful and realistic way. I am wondering how to test this out a bit further.

Admins in our district have been provided tools this year for planning meetings. As the instructional leaders in their buildings, they really need to do more than make announcements to staff. As of yet, there appears to be no evidence of buy-in for this. I don't know if it's the tools themselves or the source of them which is off-putting. I do know that the principalship is almost too behemoth for one person to be expected to manage; but in not using some kind of framework for instructional leadership in the buildings, I feel like it sends a message to staff that it is unimportant. Should improving the learning environment and creating opportunities for students be so far down on the priority list that admins can't take the time and care to craft a purposeful message for the small windows of time staff have together?

If we are truly about doing things that are good for kids, then there has to be a way to filter out all of the other noise. We have to walk the talk. We cannot expect teachers to engage their students in rich learning environments if we as staff developers and administrators are not willing to do the same for teachers. I have to think that clearly identifying one or two purposeful "understandings" (to use the UbD term) would make us all feel a little less schizophrenic in our jobs.

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