The Wisdom of Those Closest To Students

Recently, I wrote this post on “Personalized Learning Opportunities For Students is a Team Effort,” and asked for feedback and thoughts from educators on how to best empower educators to serve the individual needs of their students.  I received some great ideas in the comments as well as through email.

I received this email from Jeffrey and they made a great point:

You ask, at the end of your message, what supports would teachers need to make this a reality? By “this”, I understand you to be referring to the totality of personalized instruction. That’s an incredibly complex question, then. But for this earbuds business, or anything that amounts to variable permissions given to students as part of a personalized learning adventure, I’d say the #1 thing we need is common sense, articulated policies that teachers have a say in creating and that we agree are based on realities in the 2019 classroom.

Now I only shared a part of the comment but the last sentence stuck with me and made me think of a practice that I was a part of at the district level called “site-based decision making.” The basic premise of this process, or at least my understanding, was that the majority of the budget per student was allocated to the schools so they could make decisions on what is best suited the needs of the students under their care.  The needs of one community could look different from another so the people in the schools had a lot of autonomy on where to shift their resources as they would have a much better understanding of how to meet the needs of the community than someone outside. Of course, we would receive outside guidance and support from the district level, but at the end of the day, we were put in positions to make decisions to serve the students in front of us.

Again, this part of Jeffrey’s comment stuck out to me:

I’d say the #1 thing we need is common sense, articulated policies that teachers have a say in creating and that we agree are based on realities in the 2019 classroom.”

In my travels, I work with districts that talk about the importance of “innovation” in their classrooms but then create scripted curriculums for their teachers.  They want the “personalization” or learning in a way that looks the same for every student.  The process is counterintuitive.

I asked a group of teachers recently if they had ever had to break a “rule” or policy to do the right thing for students and the majority of them raised their hands. I say this over and over again if the policy trumps “common sense” than the policy is stupid.

This post by Lolly Daskal, “The Best Ways to Motivate People Effectively, Without Authority,”had a portion that shared the same line of thinking:

Get rid of dumb rules. A heavy-handed approach can lead to resentment and noncompliance. Get rid of any rules and regulations that aren’t really necessary. If you’re stuck in an old model of arbitrary regulations, learn to adapt to the changing environment. Freeing people up from being policed over dumb rules is always motivating.

These “rules” can lead to negative consequences for our students.  Although I am known for my work in “innovation,” I am also a rule-follower. Most people don’t want to go against their boss, myself included.  I remember walking into a classroom of a colleague early on in my career and being disappointed that she was allowing students to eat when the rule for the school was that there was to be no food in the classrooms.  She said to me, “it is tough to teach these kids when a lot of them are hungry.”  She was right. But at the time, I was more focused on doing right by the school-wide “policy” than I was in helping kids.

What if we merely asked the people closest to our students to “make decisions in the best interest of serving the students in front of you”? Of course, we have curriculums and mandates that come from states and provinces, but we also compound some of those constraints within our context when we don’t need to. Would we be terrified that anarchy would reign supreme in our schools and all structure would be thrown out the window, or would this lead to educators feeling the freedom to making decisions needed for students in front of them?

When people are micromanaged, they often do the minimal amount needed. When we look to unleash the talent of those servings our students, they are more likely to do great things that go above and beyond what is expected, and in turn, create the same opportunities for our students.

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