Monday, November 24, 2014

Dealing With the Yeah, Buts (One at a Time)

I’ve been speaking and writing a lot lately about content versus intent. I believe we are at a period in education where we know more about teaching and learning than ever before. I am always inspired by what colleagues share and am learning so much from what they write. I really think we have the knowledge base (the content) firmly in place or, at the very least, readily available. I think our next step is to determine our intent. Do we really want to engage in the practices and procedures, really want to implement policies that will lead to success for all students? The common and preferred response is yes, but lurking just beneath that are the “yeah-buts”. You all know these and they are progress stoppers. They conclude the great dialogue as they come just at the end of highly productive conversation. We’ve all agreed to commit to our next first step and then it appears. Yeah, but…

In some recent working sessions, the focus of the RTI conversations was around providing sufficient time for Tier 3 interventions. It was easy to agree that all students need to be proficient in the foundational skills of literacy, numeracy, and self-regulatory behavior. In fact, high school colleagues are often frustrated at the huge gaps that are evident in their students who are reading significantly below grade level or can’t do basic math. An end product of those gaps is negative behavior, often borne out of frustration. Let’s be clear – this is not an easily resolved issue. We aren’t able to create time and there are some constraining factors to consider. However, it is doable as I’m working in a number of schools that have made it happen. Conversations have led right to final piece of the puzzle needing to be slotted in – the time question – and the yeah, but emerges something like this. “Yeah, I agree the time is really important and the students need those skills, but I’m not giving up my course time. ___________________________ (fill in the blank with your course) is just as important as those other ones.”

This conversation is really not about the adults. It’s really not about valuing one course over another. It is about students and their learning needs. In some recent writing Chris Weber and I sum it up this way:

We believe it’s educational malpractice to NOT insist upon providing Tier 3 interventions in reading, numeracy, and behavior in place of important social studies, science, and elective opportunities WHEN significant deficits exist. The potential outcomes are clear:

  • Students will not finish high school
  • Or they will not fully participate in the comprehensive high school experience
  • Or they will not graduate ready for college or a skilled career
  • And they will not lead a productive life
…if they do not possess foundational literacy, numeracy, and behavior skills.

It’s time to slay the “yeah, buts” one at a time. They are impeding the progress of educators and significantly impacting the life chances of students. Let’s use them as starting points to the conversation not end points.

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