Stuck in the Middle with You: Negotiating a “Series of Perceived Paradoxes”

I just wrapped up my first Google Hangout book study with Michelle Helmer, Lauren Ormsby, Karen Kondrick, Margie Sweetman, and Erin Wheeler. We’re exploring Ron Berger, Leah Rugen, and Libby Woodfin’s text, Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming School Through Student Engaged Assessment. I’ve worked in several Expeditionary Learning schools over the years. It was there that I became acquainted with learning expeditions and student-centered formative assessment approaches. So much of this work aligns with my personal vision of what learning could look and feel like for students in our region, so I was pretty stoked when Michelle invited me to join her group’s study.

We spent a good portion of tonight’s chat steeped in conversations about learning targets: what they really are, how to effectively craft them, and how far we have to go before they become more than “I can” statements that live a flat existence on classroom whiteboards and inside of lesson planning tools. What I appreciated most was this group’s commitment to staying anchored to the text and their willingness to move beyond aspirations into true idea generation.

The following lines from the text resonated deeply with me as well, for an entirely different reason:

“For too long, the national education debate has been stuck in a series of perceived paradoxes: do we need more testing or no testing at all? Is the key to school change a culture set by principals or the engagement of the students?”

“The problem is that too much of the national debate focuses on a series of false dichotomies: that we must either choose rigor or child centered instruction, but not both; that we must either focus on curriculum design or focus on results, but not both; that we must build systems that authentically engage students or systems that deliver authentic student results, but not both.”

EXACTLY.

It was incredibly rewarding to spend an hour working through the first chapter of this text with a group of educators who grapple with the tension created by these perceived paradoxes as often and as uncomfortably as I do. Recognizing that I’m not alone in my thinking but that in fact, I’m negotiating the distance between these extremes with a good number of other rational leaders in our region was a timely and much needed reminder. For the last month, I’ve been trying to post  flickers of inspiration from my work week in this space each Friday. I can’t tell you how making this commitment has brightened my days. Now, I’m constantly on the look out for things to share. I’m paying closer attention to the good stuff. Tonight’s conversation definitely made this week’s cut.

I’m so grateful to be stuck in the middle of these false dichotomies with so many of you–learning as much as we can and doing the best that we can to help those who are devoted to doing the same. Here’s something else we reflected on tonight: those who teach and lead with intention can’t help but sense a deepening of their commitment right now and a recognition of the potential ahead.

It really is exciting.

 

Leave a Comment