We teachers sometimes struggle with embracing our power. We’re used to having classrooms of kids look up at us from their desks presuming that we are the smartest ones in the rooms, yet for some reason, we often struggle to embrace the influence we have. We are such rule followers that often times embracing our ability to think for ourselves is a real struggle. As a building leader, I spend the bulk of my time trying to create a sense of bold humility in teachers. Bold humility is the unique character trait that separates the great from the good. It is that “it” factor that we often talk about when we find teachers who have mastered their craft. They are bold enough to say they are the most important factor in changing a kid’s life yet humble enough to realize their opinions may not always be right. They have confidence in their influence but humility in their actions.
Teachers are superheroes who must understand their influence so they can maximize it for the good of kids. A superpower not properly harnessed can be a destructive force, a hurricane, a super villain. Power embraced and used for good can change the world for the better. Super hero teachers are afforded the opportunity to use their power to analyze the academic standards assigned to their subject areas and grade levels to make decisions of priority and change kids’ lives one lesson at a time. It is the teacher who has the influence on learning, not a book, not a worksheet, not a task. Teachers decide what will be taught and how to get students to master it.
As teachers, we have to prove our significance and impact. We’re now expected to prove that learning is happening and that we’re having an impact on it. How do we demonstrate that learning is evident, though, if it happens in a variety of ways? How do we do it today?
For years, districts took the easy way out and said they would measure learning by watching and evaluating teachers. Building principals would schedule one or two trips to a teacher’s classroom during a school year, study the actions of a classroom teacher and maybe even provide her with some feedback, and give her an evaluation score based on her behaviors. What we found out with the advent of the standards movement, however, was that by only collecting evidence of the teacher, we often made incorrect inferences about student learning. Some came to believe that we needed to have high-impact summative assessments to measure student learning in order to quantify teacher success.
Entrance into higher education is often based on far more than a single test score. Simply getting a good score on an entrance exam like the ACT, SAT, or GRE often only forces an admissions officer to take a deeper look into an applicant’s classroom grades, extracurricular activities, and citizenship. There’s nothing wrong with using a test as a screener for more information; that’s what doctors do. Our troubles begin when we think a singular test provides all the evidence we need. We cannot think that although our students learn material in a number of ways, they should all be prepared to demonstrate it the same way. As is the case with a lawyer proving a case to a jury, it’s often an accumulation of evidence that leads to a verdict. There is rarely a singular data point that unilaterally leads to a decision of guilt or innocence in a courtroom. A lawyer collects and presents a variety of evidence to prove a point. There is not one simple test that can be presented to a judge or jury to draw a consistent conclusion.
In our classrooms, we need to remove our own assessment arrogance and get into the evidence-collection business and not the test-grading business. Our job is to assess learning so we can make appropriate instructional decisions. Our job is to help our children learn and grow like never before. We must embrace our power and influence. We must be bold enough to make the decisions necessary and humble enough to seek support.
It is through bold humility that we can make the changes necessary to help our children change their destinies and enter the world they will help create. If we want our learning to endure and last a lifetime we cannot continue to focus our attention on methods and strategies that have never really worked. If we want our kids to learn skills that will last beyond a single test, let’s teach them the same way we teach them to ride a bike, after all, once you learn how to ride, you never forget.