Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Best Practices

I am resistant to the concept of an instructional strategy being labeled as a so-called best practice.  I understand the methods used to derive such a label.  A particular classroom-management technique or instructional method seems to be successful for many different teachers in many different classrooms.  As the number of teachers seeming to have success with the method or technique increases, the technique or method earns the status of "best practice."
Don't get me wrong...  I am not saying that these management techniques or instructional methods are mislabeled or fraudulent.  On the contrary, I love finding new management techniques and instructional strategies that seem to be having broad success.  
My argument is this...  Too often, education professionals search-for, covet, promote these "best practices" as if this technique or these instructional methods are a silver-bullet cure or the holy grail of education reform.  
Do not seek wise people.  Seek what they sought.
Instead of searching for a silver-bullet fix to our classrooms and schools, we should look at the methods by which teachers developed their best practices and adopt those methods to create our own best practices.  Those educational guru's studies different management techniques and instructional methods and found ones that seemed to be working.  This is what we should do in our classrooms and schools.
Teams of teachers who share the same curriculum (all of the 10th Grade English Teachers for example) should research what instructional methods or classroom management techniques seem to be working for their kids.  Ones that seem to be successful should inform those teachers who seem to be experiencing less success in their classroom.  For example, Mr. Jones might ask Ms. Wong, "How did you teach your lesson about Thesis Statements?  From looking at their formative assessments, I see that my kids didn't seem to get it, while yours seemed to do much better.  When I re-teach Thesis Statements to my classes, I would like to try a new lesson based one some of the methods you used."
This is a WONDERFUL conversation teams of teachers who share common curriculum could have.  Together, the team could do their own research based on the performances of their own students.  Together, they can analyze the relative success and needs of their own students.  Together, they can talk about interventions and re-teaching.
What makes this method better than finding the Holy Grail Of Thesis Statement Lessons is this: we all know that classes of students change from year to year.  A lesson that worked gang-busters in 2007 may seem to not be working in 2010.  With a method in place where teachers can do their own professional research on their own classes, we achieve the real Holy Grail of Education (higher performing students).
Creating a method that I describe above isn't easy. 
It takes a major shift in teacher-thinking.  Teachers need to stop thinking that they are a lone professional working in isolation.  Teaching was not developed as an isolated profession because that is how teachers thought we would work best.  Teaching is an isolated profession because in the 1800's there was only the need for one teacher for the community.  In 2010, teachers need to redefine themselves as members of a team of professionals.  The team are all of the teachers that share either students or curriculum.
Teacher teams need to have agreements about some alignment of their practice.  This sticks in the craw of many teachers who push back saying, "Do not turn me into a Wal-Mart employee!"  On the contrary, if teams of professional teachers can agree on what goals should be taught, and what formative and summative assessments will best inform the team of how well students are achieving the goals, then teachers can use their skills and knowledge in designing different instructional methods, management techniques, and interventions for students who are not achieving.
Then teacher teams can have their own research-based conversations and find their own best practices.