In starting to consider an app design for the Mobile Learning class I am taking, I watched a TED talk recommended by my professor recommended: Paul Bennett finds design in the details.
While I was in the middle of watching the video, my sister who is a fifth-grade teacher called to complain about her new principal/superintendent. In spite of the fact that her middle-class fifth graders had achieved an amazing 90% proficient on the STAR tests, the principal is making the entire school adopt a tracked, scripted language arts program and spend two hours every morning teaching it. That action is demoralizing to the teachers who worked together to devise creative, interesting ways in which to teach language arts – ways that got both the teachers and the students excited. Did I mention they reached 90% proficiency, up from 80% the previous year?
How are these two things connected? In Bennett’s talk, he notes that “tiny things can make a huge difference.” What the fifth grade teachers implemented that made such a drastic change was an after-school tutoring program. They saw a need – some students were not completing the assigned homework for various reasons – and they implemented a change that would fix that need. Some students just needed a place and time to get the homework done, while others needed more targeted instruction so that they learned what they needed to learn in order to complete the homework. The teachers did not get paid in dollars for their work, but they did get paid in amazing results. Now the District will repay them by purchasing a scripted program and demeaning them as professionals.
What my sister needs and what other teachers need is not for someone from the outside to bring in a “researched based” scripted program and the accompanying professional development “package.” What teachers need is for administrators to take heed of Paul Bennett’s advice, reconciling what big wants with what small wants, being more thoughtful about balancing the needs of the national accountability for every child, and the experience of each individual child in the classroom.
As I design my app for professional development I will consider Bennett’s advice, “have a beginner’s mind.” While I spent many years in the classroom, it has now been seven years since I have taught students. I will put myself in the classroom and try to experience being a teacher again in order to design a professional development opportunity that is designed to meet the needs of a teacher, not what an administrator thinks the needs of the teacher are.