The other day I was privy to a conversation with some administrators in a local school district (not Columbia County) in which the topic was school improvement. Understand, I have my own personal views about how to improve schools which I have introduced previously and will continue to do so. However, this conversation stunned me. While the goal was change and improvement, the entire focus was how to do it within the notion of standards, the system, and assessment.
I understand why. This is where we are in education. What we do is mandated. The goal is to master national and state created standards. At the same time, the mantra is about critical and creative thinking. In my opinion, this creates and incompatible system.
Why you may ask? Schools are judged on test scores. They can be state scores, SAT/ACT scores, Milestones tests or reading batteries. The goal of education is to measure. However, critical and creative thinking are more difficult to measure. How do you measure inspiration? How do you measure creative problem solving? How do you measure and true understanding of society? Because of the reductionist view of education, deconstructing knowledge into measureable elements, schools are paralyzed into a relatively singular notion of success.
Administrators have become educational managers. According to Stever Robbins of Entrepreneur Magazine, “Leaders are the heart of a business. The essence of leadership means inspiring a group to come together for a common goal. Leaders motivate, console and work with people to keep them bonded and eager to move forward. That means setting a direction, communicating it to everyone who will listen (and probably many who won't) and keeping people psyched when times get tough. Managers are the brains of a business. They establish systems, create rules and operating procedures, and put into place incentive programs and the like. Management, however, is about the business, not the people; the people are important as a way of getting the job done.”
Administrators should be curriculum leaders and instructional leaders. As a curriculum leader, they should help teachers create learning opportunities. They should rely on the teachers’ expertise is designing experiences that a filled with opportunities for critical and creative thinking. As instructional leaders, administrators should push teachers to be innovative in their methods, utilize technology as a tool for learning (not as the learning), and create learning situations that push students to expand their understandings of the world.
Until we think of learning as an ongoing process that can’t always be measured, learning will continue to stagnate. Therefore, I argue that by reducing the influence of assessments, scores, and measurement of students, we can allow our educational leaders to lead, not just manage the system.
With the exception of a year, I have been a teacher or a student for my entire life. I have taught on many different levels. I have been a middle school teacher (okay, for one semester for student teaching...because of this, I have a profound respect for middle school teachers), high school, undergraduates and graduate students. I have coached soccer in youth leagues and high school. Education is in my blood.