I’m sick of the numbers

I’ve had enough. Anyone else feel that way? Twenty years ago I got into education because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to change lives. I wanted to change destinies. I wanted to bring smiles and laughter to lives in desperate need of hope. That is not what I find myself doing today though. Instead, so many others want me chasing numbers instead of kids.

As a building principal I have one job…only one. Keep everyone safe. Yes, this means I need to provide for the care and physical comfort of my students and staff, but it also means I need to care for their emotional, mental, and sometimes even spiritual comfort as well. In the world of education today our teachers are under attack. They are criticized by parents, by legislators, by the media, and sometimes, even by people like me, their building principals.

Now, I do not think anyone has bad intentions. I am firm believer that we need to “Assume the good and doubt the bad”. But I also know that so many people, with their positive intentions, have caused some pretty disheartening unintended consequences. For example- many states have begun to initiate mandatory retention of elementary school kids if they are not reading at “grade level” by the end of third grade. I get the intent. What is often the result though? A new batch of children who become believers in the idea they are failures, who are now a year older (or more) than their peers and are then legally able to drop out of school while still in middle school. Yes- this is a real byproduct.

We have states that have begun to experience teacher shortages and as a result have initiated paths for emergency certification for others to fill vacancies, not based on their ability to enrich a child or deliver quality instruction, but because of their ability to pass a content area test. The unintended result is often schools are filled with certified teachers unable to deliver instruction in a meaningful way that results in lasting learning for students.  Don’t get me wrong. We have teachers working extremely hard. But what we also have is a system that was established looking for a quick fix that has resulted in unintended consequences.  In my building some of my best teachers are “alternatively certified”, but the first four years of their careers are often very rocky, filled with professional development, as I fill the role that many undergraduate institutions fill in other locations. I have a willingness to ride out those formative years, but when we see statistics that show us that 40% of teachers leave the profession within the first 3.5 years, we also know this is not the norm.

We have systems that have elevated the accountability facade to the point now where every student represents a dot on a scatter plot. We lose sight of student names and individual identities and we begin to chase proficiency and learning gains, not for the sake of changing a life and enhancing future opportunities, but for the benefit of a school grade and an enhanced school dashboard.

As the principal of a school, my job is to protect my students and my staff. My job is to make sure that nobody gets caught up in a numbers game. My teachers cannot feel the pressure to chase numbers, because when they do, they lose sight of the destinies they really seek to change. My teachers cannot focus on teaching only content, because then they lose sight of the children in front of them. My job as the principal is to ensure that my teachers are protected from the unnecessary pressures and distractions that so many with good intentions are placing in front of them on a daily basis. My job is to protect my teachers from those above and below so they can focus on what is seated directly in front of them.

Sure, numbers are important. We need to measure our progress and work to grow, adapt, and improve. But staring at a scale every morning does not make you lose weight any faster. In actuality it will probably slow down your progress as the slow shift of the needle can get discouraging and overwhelming. Check in with less frequency and get pleasantly surprised at your results.

If you are a school principal, feel free to measure things with numbers, but keep that from your teachers. If you are a teacher, focus on your kids first and your content second. If you are a parent, a member of the media, or just an advocate for schools, advocate for schools. Schools are a collection of individuals, not a collection of numbers. There is a difference between trying to reach each child and trying to reach every child. Knowing the difference can make all of the difference.

I am sick of the numbers and so are my teachers. We are going to change lives and in twenty years look at all of our success, because that is why we do what we do. Feel free to analyze whatever data you want every day, every week, or every year while I work to protect my teachers and remind them why they really do what they do every day…and it has nothing to do with what you are measuring.

 

Dave is a practicing school principal, author, and speaker. Feel free to check out his site for information on his books or how he may be able to help you and your school.

www.schmittou.net

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