Sunday, May 8, 2011

For Whom the Bell Tolls

     I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Seattle earlier this week.  It was a refreshing change to attend as a participant and a great learning experience as I spent time with colleagues from British Columbia, Alberta, Washington, Wyoming, and Tennessee. One of the more interesting conversations centered on what to do with students that have been struggling all year and seem destined for failure.  Depending on the jurisdiction there was anywhere from four to eight weeks left in the current school year.

     An educator let out an exasperated sigh as she reflected on the number of strategies she had tried with the end result still being that her student was hovering around the mid 40's as his grade and only four weeks left in the year. She suggested that her energies might be better spent with those who were responding to the interventions. I asked her to tell me a little more about the particular student and she described a student many of us are encountering. Little prior academic success, no support from the home, poor socializing skills, and a big chip on his shoulder concerning adults. She then added a number of vignettes about interactions she had with the student over the course of the year. These all struck me a positive interactions and I asked her if she thought these were reflected in her assessment of the student. She did admit to the personal growth the student had demonstrated but was frustrated by the lack of comparable academic growth. We talked about the time left in the year and what else could be done to continue the progress being made. It may not result in the student meeting the standard but clearly it should not be viewed as a failure.

     While we are challenged with book ends that mark our school year and are compelled to provide a final grade on the academic achievement of students during that time, this should not be confused with measuring the growth of students.  There is a Chinese proverb that states "the one who plants the tree rarely gets to enjoy its' shade", and that is so true for us as educators.  Clearly we must continue to plant the seeds of knowledge and tend to the garden that is our classroom.  Whether or not I, as the teacher of record, get to see the end result is not as relevant as whether or not the student experiences growth. As we collectively work to improve the life chances of all of our students we should also reflect and build on the work of those teachers who worked diligently before us to move students along the continuum of growth. As we head to graduation ceremonies let's remember the great work done by our Kindergarten teachers.

     You may recall the end to John Donne's Meditation 17 part of which is quoted in the title of this blog. The meditation ends with "it tolls for thee." Remember this as you look at the rest of the school year and contemplate who time is running out for. We are the difference makers and should continue to be just that until the final bell tolls.

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