Sunday, September 20, 2009


It has been an interesting year for me as an educator. I have spent the past two years as a staff development coordinator, and that journey has made me increasingly aware of the roadblocks that stand between our normal practices and the quality practices that could create engaged educational experiences for our students. There are a host of these, but for today I want to explore two experiences that happened in just the last couple of days.

The first of these was a meeting I had last Thursday with three very dedicated members of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction who are working with new teachers being licensed to teach Social Studies. I met with these folks along with a member of our Social Studies department in the interest of learning about what quality practices we might bring to our instruction of social studies at Roseville Area High School. What followed was an enlightened and interesting conversation about ways to make the content of social studies engaging and meaningful for our students. At the end of this conversation, having drilled down to the idea that our work needed to move slowly to explore social studies topics in a way that was relevant and also allowed deep thinking about topics of interest to the student, I posed a question related to the difficulty of doing these quality practices in light of the need to cover a rather imposing array of content standards for social studies. In short, teachers are prevented from quality instruction because they feel compelled to cover the standards. What was interesting was that noone in the room could recall a meaningful conversation with the state leaders in education as to how this very real challenge should be overcome.

Lets shift the conversation now to student engagement. I have been working over the past six months to create an educational research group to explore why it is that students become increasingly disengaged by education as they move further into their secondary years. As a consequence of this work, I have been involved in many conversations about what is and is not working in our secondary schools. The idea that we know what makes quality instruction but are not doing the things that we know we should be doing is a recurrent theme of these conversation. There is an interesting work related to this called "The Knowing Doing Gap", and some of the answers can also be found in Anthony Muhammed's work on school culture. But clearly, in the case of secondary social studies, the ongoing influence of ED Hirsch and our obsession with content standards is also to blame for this failure to create an environment that routinely engages our students.

It would seem that while we can continue to work to identify practices that result in increased student learning, we might be better served to spend some time exploring why we are not implementing the quality practices of which we are already aware.

More on this later...

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