Declare war on the Ruts, Boundaries & Comfort Zones

I was pulled into Dean Shareski’s phenomenal post PLC’s Something’s Missing.

Dean says:

“…they even reference rigorous standards and I think I heard the term 21st century learning (whatever that really is), I’m still fearful that the zeal to improve scores and test results leads to the perpetuation of school as we knew it and still know it. The strategies of PLC’s and assessment, if not combined with a real understanding of what kids ought to be doing in school leave use just doing a better job of the schools of the 1950’s.”

A rut is a rut
Taken from my comments to Dean

I see the analogy from my life on the farm. When it was muddy and the road was in a state of flux, we would all drive in the same spot and we’d make ruts. Then, when the hot sun came, the ruts were there and driving out of them is almost as difficult as driving in them. The only way to get rid of ruts like this is for the tremendously huge road scrapers to come in and totally redo the road. (In fact, while the process occurs, the road is virtually undriveable.)

I even find myself using buzzwords sometimes at the urging of those who say that these words “legitimize” the work that I do. A rut can be called a rut or it can also be called… comfort zones or boundaries. Hey, it could even be called “buzzwords.” But, let’s call it what it is… It is just a rut, plain and simple.

It is time to reexamine the ruts and determine — are they there because it is the best way or because it is the way we’ve always done it?

Although it is so important to remember that excellence should always be the goal… we can have students excellently learn how to sew a straight seam in a dress when indeed it is unlikely that in today’s society that they will have to or that is necessary.

Differentiated instruction sans Technology?

I got frustrated the other day as I was looking over a course offering by our local RESA — it was on differentiated instruction… it held no mention of anything computer related… Nothing! It had ways to cut paper, make manipulatives, etc. and yet the greatest manipulative invented in the history of mankind was left out.

The person who attended the course said, “Well, they just didn’t have time for that. This was for real teachers.”

And that, Dean, is the rut!

Real teachers and real schools need to be really relevant, really good at what they do, and need to really examine the content of what they are teaching.

Sometimes my best days of teacher are those in which no grades are taken but in which we have really incredible conversations enabled by a backchannel chat that incorporate everyone. (Because the quiet kids WILL talk in a chat — I promise you…. try it and you’ll see.)

How can that be measured? Who can justify that day? What would I do if I were in a school that did not allow such “wasted” time?

I would be a poorer teacher and my students would be worse off for it.

It is time to scrape the roads, friends.

(And this includes incredibly long winded powerpoint-enabled presentations with no backchannel. )

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3 thoughts on “Declare war on the Ruts, Boundaries & Comfort Zones

  1. How’s this for a rut? A colleague was telling about a coworker who uses blackboard in her classroom. Two of the families have complained, one because of lack of access; the other because they are against the use of the internet. The issue is going in front of the board as to whether or not students can be compelled to do assignments using technology.

    Before you bring up the question of the digital divide, let me note that this a wealthy suburban school that is “wired” with computers that often go unused in computer labs due to lack of demand. The one student with the lack of access was given additional time and allowed some class time to work on the assignment.

    My thought is that this would not happen with writing or math. If a student is unable to write or has difficulties in math, the English and Math requirements are not waived, nor is it taken out of the curriculum FOR ALL STUDENTS. Instead, alternatives are found. However, the “rut” is that technology is perceived as an “add-on” in most schools rather than a necessity, without which students will not be able to enter the workforce except in some low paying jobs.

  2. I was struck by the course Differentiating Instruction WITHOUT Technology. We had gone that root. Last year though I taught a course in our district Differentiating Instruction WITH Technology and had a waiting list. We are doing it again this fall.

    One of the wonderful outcomes is that the original group has formed a PLC – Teaching with Technology. The group’s focus in looking at new tool each month and more importantly looking at student needs and brainstorming ways to meet those needs whether it includes tech or not. The group is much more willing to step out of their comfort zones and try something new because they have encouragement and support. Many have really begun to change their instructional strategies.

  3. Vicki, the most striking part of this post (for me) was the quip about buzzwords. With the NECC deadline approaching (and the CA CUE deadline just past), I’ve been feeling like my own workshops were in a rut. I’ve moved from slides to wikis for the most part, but often with the same basic structure. And even the workshop titles/content are feeling old (at least to me). So this post has struck a chord with my resolve to lead all new sessions this time around.

    I also look forward to seeing what everyone else imagines in the next week (and the following nine months), too. In some ways, this week is a very important one in our field, isn’t it? Educators around the world will define what ruts we stay in and which new paths will be explored. Hopefully the good new stuff gets accepted…

    -Mark

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