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Monday, June 30, 2014

OK, Metrics Again. It's Just Not Right.

Lessons Learned

Not That There's Anything Left To Say, But....

In a word, metrics. How do we measure up? Are we faster, better, or stronger than the last time we checked? Are all of our measurable qualities demonstrating continuous improvement? Success of any organization or entity, these days, boils down to numbers and can readily be assessed on the pan balance of comparison. Good numbers constitute good work, and good work is the all in all. Eons and billions are spent monitoring and managing metrics, and profit empires are built on such.  This is humongously meaningful for countless things such as those that are inanimate, but what of those that are not? What about people?  With respect to people, there are a number of immeasurable qualities which significantly influence successful outcomes. Many of the immeasurable qualities that powerfully contribute to success are contingent on the affective culture or mindset of the people involved. In the flurry of checklist assignment dispensing, deadlines pressing in, paper gathering, number crunching, outcome analyzing, and bottom line ramifications, where are the people? Where are the feelings of the people? Machines heartlessly and most effectively produce brilliant metrics. The human variable notches down the effectiveness because this pesky variable has feelings; unquantifiable feelings that can and do unpredictably tip the balance. Drat and double drat. Take schools, for instance. Are all of the boxfuls of voluminous paperwork generated and tabulated for each student honestly, truly honestly improving that student’s understanding of content, application of understanding, and capability of producing connection building scaffolding? I do not think so. From my vantage point of thirty years in the classroom, I see the areas in most dire need of bolstering among students to be relational.  Feelings, communication, empathy, and compassion are all immeasurable and they all lead to understanding. Understanding leads to meaning-making which suddenly brings relevance into the educational picture.  Encouragement is another immeasurable but remains by far the single most important and long-lasting motivator. We can try to motivate extrinsically but when the novelty of the incentive wears off we’ve lost. Encouragement, on the other hand, cumulatively builds confidence and commitment and requires no paperwork, simply words spoken from one heart to another heart.  A leader comprehends this human need and harnesses its power as a strong motivator of people. A leader comprehends that to create and to innovate, which exist at the top level of Bloom’s Taxonomy  of learning domains, the affective environment needs to be one of encouragement. The affective environment of a metrics driven organization is fear, fear of the pan balance upon which each one’s efforts are regularly measured.  Fear can surely be a motivator, but in a very sad, unhealthy, and dysfunctional sort of way.  Fear binds creativity. The data obsession of a metrics environment aligns all efforts on an efficient and lock-step path of conformity which is neatly quantifiable, but deals the death blow to all things time-consumingly creative.  The pendulum swing of those cultural values to which we most deeply cling is presently at its widest arc in metrics glorification, but it will swing back because historically it always does. Numbers can never and will never paint the whole picture when the hearts and dreams of people are involved.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Oh, And Another Thing On Metrics

Lessons Learned

While Still On The Soapbox Of Metrics…

One of the most significant outages of metrics driven educational accountability, as I see it, is the absence of time for relational connection to the students.  There simply are not enough hours in the school day to accommodate all of the paperwork that needs to be accomplished in terms of a variety of assessments, high-stakes testing with endless prep for that, and documentation on each issue of each student so that suitable amounts of paper trails can cover every measurable aspect. Information is not the enemy, however. We have a tendency towards the extreme, and that is the problem.  The “go big or go home” mentality which drives our culture and permeates our every moment, pushes and extends the wide-sweeping swing of the pendulum of trends to new extremes that readily enslave us all. We seem to have lost all sense of moderation and balance and have traded that for superlative amounts of the next new-fangled idea, whatever that may be. Excessive, obsessive amounts of metrics fastidiously gathered for the purposes of something that may or may not be working relative to educating students successfully is fast becoming ridiculous. And what has been traded for the boxes full of pointless data which will sit and ultimately become kindling for the fire resulting from the spark of tomorrow’s next theory? Show and tell has been traded.  Arts have been traded. Field trips and special curiosity-driven projects have been traded.  PE, an extra recess and normal-length lunch hours have been traded. All things that make education real and human and meaningful and relatable have been traded. That is a gargantuanly pricey trade. The numbers have added little besides significant stress and have taken beauty and connection. In thirty years of teaching, I have sadly witnessed exponentially increasing numbers of relational breakdowns all around but beginning with families. Kids are resilient is what the experts all say and it’s true to a certain extent but it is not the whole story. Scars. Fear. Pain. Insecurity.  And on and on. These are the rest of the story. These are what students carry to the classroom, to recess, to the nurse’s office. These are the things that tummy aches are made of. These are the things that stir in bullies. These are the things that result in high distractibility and disengagement.  These things hurt deeply and permanently and affect every single aspect of school. These things are not documented alongside reading scores, but they influence every assessment.  All of the traded elements mentioned above provide balm for the deep hurts such as these, and without them our burdened children merely go superficially through educational motions. To talk, to interact, to share, to relate, to express, to create, these are meaning-making attributes of education that inspire engagement and foster affirmation that in turn will encourage confidence and desire to discover.  Swing pendulum, swing away from the numbers that allow decision-makers to enthusiastically pat one another on the back, and instead swing toward those deep things that honestly reach and nurture students. We yearn for connection; it’s a human need, and it cannot be extracted from educating children without suffering an unfathomable price.  We are there.     

Thursday, June 26, 2014

An Unhealthy Metrics Obsession.

Lessons Learned

Ughhhhh Stop With The Obsessive Metrics Gathering Already!

In education today, as well as in most other areas, it all comes down to this; numbers. Scores. Metrics. Performance Data. These numbers drive funding, define success, delineate projections, and determine accountability for students, teachers, school districts, and states. As numbers are crunched, compared, and evaluated on flow charts and bar graphs presented in large beige-colored conference rooms to suit-clad metrics philosophers, perhaps it is easy to forget that these numbers represent precious, unique children filled with brilliant dreams, gifts, and wonder, anxious to explore the world and imagine and discover answers to challenging questions. States, districts, teachers, and students are staggering under the inscrutable weight of cold, hard, continuous metric achievement, which unquestionably demands the classroom focus to be statistical. The highly-pressured demands of this have been known to  result in unethical choices made in survival-type desperation. Unfortunately, although true learning cannot be quantified as such nor contained in neat statistical, numerical boxes, it seems it has become reduced to this very thing. Teaching to the test leads not to true learning. Teaching to the test inspires no imaginative and possibility-filled divergent thinking, clever invention, or mind wandering creativity. Teaching to the test opens no new windows of discovery, but rather denotes a more “shoveling in of information” style of fact dissemination. As there must be some sort of balance in all things in life, there appears to be no balance in this now. The metrics pendulum has swung to an unhealthy, inappropriate extreme with respect to educating our children and is in dire need of honest, immediate scrutiny and re-prioritization if we are to truly nurture and nourish tomorrow’s hope.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

One Year Anniversary Of "Where Do I Begin?" Blog!!!

Lessons Learned

One Year Of Blogging

June 15, 2013 was the day that I finished my Master’s Degree, submitted the voluminous final project, and breathed the heavy but immensely satisfied sigh that accompanies completion of any outrageously arduous task that even you yourself on your most optimistic of days cannot fully believe you can do. Fastidiously poring over journal articles and combing through vast masses of obscure yet critically relevant research, I, at fifty-five, tried to catch up and then keep up with the young, exceedingly bright go-getter students in the graduate program who were my classmates. But they were helpful and kind and supportive and encouraging and patient, and I was deeply inspired just to run alongside them. Feverishly writing paper after paper after paper, day after day after day with a thesaurus, a dictionary, and spellcheck serving as my closest friends, I muddled through and made it, whereby marking off a bucket list item.  Finished. Done. The contented exhaustion that followed was quickly chased by a pinch of emptiness ushered in by the absence of constant looming, driving deadlines. Now what? After being suddenly tossed from the spin cycle, how does one regain footing? After daily ongoing wrestling matches with words and ideas and opinions and constant reflection and subsequent assertions all superimposed upon the already hectic and full schedule of ordinary life and living, it stopped. It’s awkward and uncomfortable when it stops.  One of my sons, detecting my unexpected frustration with this change, suggested that a way to keep ideas flowing, a way to keep challenging and stretching such as in pursuit of that Master’s Degree, was to write a blog. We talked about it. It sounded good. And now it has been a year of blogging. A year of sharing and learning. Learning can’t stop simply because the degree has been accomplished or the certification has been achieved or the test has been passed, for life is learning and to live is to grow, to reach, to aspire. We all have lessons to learn, that is certain, but we also all have lessons to teach and to share with others who will follow behind and do well with a bit of our wisdom and understanding. Undoubtedly, each and every day, we are all teachers, and we are all learners. This lesson-filled journey known as life constitutes the best of all continuing education for it calls us to remain connected and engaged and challenging one another to be better than we think we can be. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

When Your Child Gets Married...

In the twinkling of an eye, the whoosh of time swirls you through the years in a lovely blur of lessons and accomplishments wrapped in unfathomable love and pride as you watch your children, your priceless treasure, dream and grow. And then they get married. The family circle widens and makes room for each beautiful new heart. It is the happiest of all happy times.