Monday, February 6, 2012

Problems or Symptoms

Lots of topics are at the forefront of discussion in education these days. As I am continually reflecting on these things, I wonder if we might be chasing our tails with a few of them. Are we treating the problems or the symptoms?

I have been vocal about my disdain for homework and the negative impacts it has on students, teachers and families. However, if we are going to do anything about the issue of homework, don’t we first have to look at the overcrowding of curriculum in our classrooms? Can we solve the homework problem before we solve the curriculum problem? I honestly feel bad for teachers who have just an overwhelming amount of content they are being required to get through in the course of a school year. Our schools have made the decision that quantity of curriculum is more important that quality. Until we switch that, homework will remain a topic of discussion from the teacher’s lounge to the dinner table.

We also discuss the problem associated with lack of funding in our schools. Many people have lamented about programs being cut and resources drying up. Yet, if we spent our money better would that help? Rather than looking at getting more, should we first assess how we spend what we have? I know this is easier said than done but it is a starting point at least.

Another issue is about the blame that teachers seem to shoulder when students or schools are under performing. Is that fair, when the only ones that have actual power cause real change are the administrators? Yes, teachers have control in classroom but they have little power to change curriculum, policy, rules or funding. Teachers can’t get rid of bad teachers among their ranks. Administrators are able to do many of the things that will impact large scale change in a school. Why not focus more on creating instructional leaders within schools and give them the power to promote positive change in a building? Yes, teachers need to be held accountable, but so too should administrators. Teachers are often the product of their leader. Don’t underestimate the power of a bad administrator to run a school into the ground of a great one to push a building to new heights.

Social media is also getting hammered as a viable tool in schools. Most schools block its use and are quick to share numerous examples of the negatives of social media. There are many stories of students and teachers getting themselves into trouble through the use of a variety of social media outlets. Yet, we are missing the point when we block and push it away. First, if we don’t teach our kids how to use these tools…who will? Also, social media does not create the problems but rather it exposes them. Let’s not focus on blocking things that are part of our students’ lives, but instead help them learn how to use these tools responsibly. Let’s stop chasing our tails and blocking things before we understand them and educate our students on them.

Are we looking at the problems or the symptoms? If we continue to treat and address the symptoms, the problem will not go away.