|Inside Riverside Church|
If you have ever heard Lucy Calkins speak even once, you know her words are powerful, she tells a story like nobody's business and she talks fast! So I came prepared and took seven pages of notes but recorded her audio as well to go back and fill in some important parts I missed. So, much of what I am sharing is direct quotes from her or her words paraphrased. I want you to know that this huge church was filled to the back and you could have heard a pin drop. The thoughts and ideas resonated with us all as I could see nods of heads around me and even tears at times. I hope that what I share here will even have a small impact on you as it had a big impact on me.
We are at a juncture in education where pressures and expectations are skyrocketing. The Common Core Standards which have been adopted in 46 states point out that there is a gap that exists from high school graduation to college entrance where students enter a year behind the reading level they should. Even though it has been made clear that if there is any dumbing down of the texts it has been done at the high school level, maybe the middle school level but definitely not the elementary level. (The level of text complexity in the K-5 level has not increased over the last 30 years). Yet the common core has put the responsibility of raising text complexity squarely on the shoulders of K-4 teachers. Between the grades of K -5 kids are expected to grow a level of 150 lexile points a year and between the grades of 6-12 the kids are expected to grow a level of 60 points a year. What used to be expected at the end of fourth grade now is expected at the middle of second grade. We have to escalate the quality and volume of reading that kids do. The expectations come with punitive results if students don’t meet the them. Instead of 1/3 of third graders not meeting expectations in the U.S. we will now have 2/3 not meeting expectations. (This just happened in NY ) It is the level of reading, comprehending and writing.
The expectations are higher so the level of support for teachers should be high as well but schools have less money to provide for books and supplies because that money is used on tests and technology to take tests ( 15 billion is being spent in the U.S. to implement Common Core Standards) Schools have less ability to provide professional development and less ability to provision kids with books they need and teachers have larger class sizes than ever and at the same time people, the media and politicians are calling out, “DO MORE, REACH HIGHER!” Teachers are being portrayed as screw ups.
That wake up call has been rung, and rung, and rung and it’s not gonna work now. Why would people think that criticism is helping grow master teachers?
The story that schools are failing is a carefully manufactured message. It’s not true, for example, that graduation rates are at an all time low as people keep saying. In the beginnning of the 21st century, the graduation rate was 10%. Now the graduation rates are 75-90% depending on how you look at them. The question Lucy asks is, “Why would Arne Duncan, U. S. Education Secretary, NOT count those graduating in August instead of June? Why would he not count GED graduates?
Why don’t people point out that levels of child poverty have tripled over the years and the scores have remained flat for 30 years. The single factor that most relates to scores is poverty. They should be saying, “Good for you teachers!” Do they actually think the way to improve teaching and learning is to demoralize teachers?
A study recently came out that said in the last 3 years teacher job satisfaction levels have gone from 62% to 39%. It’s worse in elementary schools. Over half are going through their day stressed. Think about a day with your kids where you weren’t stressed at all. How different was that from the day you were totally stressed out.
Whether you like it or not those of you who teach reading are entering into a horse race. The move to more universal and rigorous common core assessments will yield data about approaches to reading and writing and the expectation that we will figure out the right answers from these tests. Many of these schools are quickly moving to Readers Workshop. This year they received more applications than ever.
Here’s what will matter in your school because there is less professional development. You must lead from within. Build capacity.
Our first goal at our school should be to create a counter narrative to this “teachers are failing” narrative. The “teachers are failing” narrative is demoralizing and it will never tap into the energy needed to do this work. It’s not just teachers taking a beating. Kids are taking a beating. Lucy referenced Sandy Hook Elementary where they could be the death of optimism. But authors captured the stories of heroic teachers and love displayed to give that school a counter narrative. At Teachers College they have made the story of NewTown, CT the story of the principal, Dawn who attended many of their Institutes. The principal who put herself in harms way to protect children. THAT is a narrative. These counter narratives need to be told. They are what MATTERS. It shouldn’t take kids dying to tell these stories. Write yours as school leaders. You need to do this to overcome doing more with less.
Successful communities have leaders that rally others to fight for causes greater than themselves. Success or failure of an institution is how well it taps into finding talents of individuals. We all need to be contagious learners. It needs to be visable. One way to rally communities is to go on walks through the school building expecting to find beauty. Call it “Glory Walks” - illustrate your counter narrative with the magic that happens when a teacher sits and works with a child.
Carrot sticks will never make teachers go the extra mile. Rally them to ideas that tap into their belief system. Tapping into people’s energy to make good work better. As a leader, all of the people who work with you are on your lap or shoulder. Choose to lead by influence.
My favorite thing about her speech was teaching us about writing the counter narrative for our school. I think we do a good job of that within, recognizing greatness, sharing small moments and telling the story of what makes our school special but I think we can do more. I LOVE the idea of Glory Walks. Sometimes when you are going on a "focus" walk looking for specific things you might miss out on something amazing that could be happening that very minute. One of my favorite job assignments my boss ever gave me was to take photos of each teacher interacting with a child or class. Truly I get teary eyed watching the slideshow of the photos teamed together because what we are doing with kids IS magical, and rocket science, and selfless. We need to tell our story more!