Month 1 of 10

“We’ve gotta be…” supersedes “We Got a B!” for many reasons, but I will focus on four ways to position labor above language, principles over paradigms. I don’t have all of the answers, but I crafted questions within each category to help guide us toward what we’ve gotta be. 

At back-to-school time, it is common to see folks hosting school supply drives – benevolently organized efforts to make sure that students don’t enter their respective learning spaces with unmet material needs. We know that there is a predictable set of challenges to students’ academic, social, and emotional learning outcomes if they start without certain physical resources to seize their opportunities from the first day.

The salient beauty of back-to-school drives is their focus on helping children. It’s a fantastic way for families to pool their time and energy toward an investment in seeing as many children as possible off to a great start. Focusing on the needs – and, furthermore, the identities, cultures, and backgrounds – of children is without question a fine and fitting way to begin any and every day, week, month, or year.

Since the 2018-19 academic year, another annual observance has emerged during back-to-school season. Texas schools and districts now receive A-F letter grade ratings from the Texas Education Agency in late summer. The recently released 2019 letter grades allow principals, central office staff, proud parents, teachers and such to collectively shout – through the press, text messages, and social media – “We Got a B!” 

Seven public school districts near my home received B’s this year. To state the obvious, B’s are great; only A’s are better. If my children went to school for 13 years or more and always got B’s, I certainly would not be disappointed in their grade reports.

Yet my own high school diploma and Bachelor’s degree were both accompanied by a 2-point-something GPA, a C average. Then, in graduate school, I got nearly all A’s and the qualifications to be a principal as well as a strong conviction to not become a public school administrator, so… grades aren’t everything.

So, from a critical perspective, what really matters here?

In my view, the business of education is an LLC – Literacy, Learning, and Culture. Key questions include: Are all learners actively developing their writing, reading, listening, and speaking skills? Do our education systems help all learners interpret the historical, political, and social contexts that shape our lived experiences? Are relevant learning outcomes central to the purpose of our districts, campuses, and programs? Do learning organizations actively honor and value the full range of identities and cultures represented by our students and families?

The danger is in the details, specifically the vacuous blind spots.

As wonderful as back-to-school drives are, they only mean so much if the same folks who bought and filled students’ backpacks are no longer supporting the use of those same supplies by January. In other words, the showiness of back-to-school giveaways should also be backed up by helping students and schools handle their business of education (LLC).

Similarly, when districts and their employees chorally exclaim “We Got a B!” as the school year starts, my mind bridges to business. Since letter-grade ratings are largely based on standardized testing data, my curiosity led me to check the clearest indicator of how well districts and schools run their business: reading achievement.

Although the Manor, Austin, Pflugerville, Leander, Elgin, Round Rock, and Hutto districts can all say “We Got a B!”, their reading scores make it sound unreasonable. Looking at the districts separately reveals a wide range of students reading on grade level, between 32% to 66% respectively. Considering the crucial impact of reading on learning outcomes, this is too large of a margin for these districts to all have the same letter grade. 

On average, half of the students in these seven B-grade districts were reading on level; the other half were left behind. And if most of our students aren’t demonstrating that they can read well, it’s time to think about something besides letter grades. It’s time to shift our focus from the paradigm (“We Got a B!”) to the principle (“We’ve gotta be…”).

“We’ve gotta be…” supersedes “We Got a B!” for many reasons, but I will focus on four ways to position labor above language, principles over paradigms. I don’t have all of the answers, but I crafted questions within each category to help guide us toward what we’ve gotta be. 

Aspiration

Can the state mandate our vision for serving children? Can the state measure it?

Look at your district or campus vision, a statement forecasting the impact of how we intentionally act as professional educators. Are our vision statements authentic, or merely compliant and using all of the right language?

Have we already achieved this vision? If so, is it still a worthwhile vision? What’s on the other side of what your school or district is currently struggling with? Is that what your vision is about?

What motivates us professionally?

How do our aspirations relate to the students, families, communities, and employees we serve? 

We’ve gotta be intentional with our aim, understanding that our impact will supersede our intentions.

Improvement

How do we move our campuses and districts toward maximizing their potential? Can we be content with how we function and look forward to more?

If only a small fraction of our students are reading on grade level, what can we do to improve? What academic discipline do we believe is more important than reading achievement?

How can we leverage the leadership, systems, and culture of our organization in support of students’ Literacy, Learning, and Culture?

How does our improvement relate to the students, families, communities, and employees we serve? 

We’ve gotta be focused on handling the business of education better than last year. 

Reflection

What’s a scholar without praxis, including critical self-reflection?

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? When our school staff or district office takes a collective look in the mirror, what do we see? What do our campus and district climates express about our collective identities?

How do these mirror images relate to our will (and skill) to envision our future and improve on our present practices?

What are our expectations for consistent individual and collaborative reflective practices?

How many types of data are we driven by? Which ones are the most important to us? Who is missing from that data?

How does reflection relate to the students, families, communities, and employees we serve? 

We’ve gotta be more reflective, don’t we?! 

Modeling

We are a primary influence on our biological and school children’s identities – exemplars of what to do or not to do. For better or worse, we represent and shape their future, as well as the complicated world they inherit.

What do the children see in us? What would be the effect of the children seeing us continually reflecting, aspiring, and improving?

How does our modeling relate to the students, families, communities, and employees we serve? 

We’ve gotta be modeling intentionally, knowing that our actions are impactful regardless.

TEA letter grades paint a generic picture.

No matter how well-equipped our students show up on the first day, and no matter what letter grades we get from the state, we have the ongoing business of education (LLC) to tend to. We can do better than what our state report, or the test data that grounds it, can ever reasonably measure.

We’ve gotta be continually looking inward, outward, and all around us. We’ve gotta be honest with ourselves about what we want to be, what we need to be, and why. We’ve gotta be aware that the children are watching; they are truly following our lead.

So, we’ve gotta be better on purpose.

8 thoughts on “Month 1 of 10

  1. Yes! We’ve gotta be purposefully purposeful! This is absolutely salient to the state of public education and the need for a paradigm shift. Next installment coming…?

  2. Thank you for writing this. Children are definitely following our lead, and, as educators, we must continue to challenge each other to stay focused on what’s really important in our work. I really like your questions about data (how many types are we driven by, which are most important to us, who is missing). I’m looking forward to the next one and will be reflecting on this piece until then!

  3. This!! The whole article sings music to my ears and had me snapping my fingers and saying Amen. The part that spoke the loudest to me was that we have to be intentional with our aim and understand that our impact will supersede our intentions.
    I will be sharing this with my campus and am eagerly waiting for the next of hopefully many.

    1. Wow. I’m grateful that you’ll put this to use. Please share your reflection with me afterwards; you know I’m constantly learning about learning… Thanks!

  4. Thanks for giving context for the rating systems! I live in one of those districts, which has increased from a failing to B. I see the strides being made to improve the district; however, it’s not enough to entrust my children to the system.

    1. I appreciate the personal testimony in your response. We’ve gotta be doing our best, meticulous inspections of the “children’s menu”. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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