Sunday, July 13, 2014

Educational Leadership Condundrum

Lately I haven’t been sleeping too well. To be more accurate, I haven’t been staying asleep too well.  Falling asleep isn’t my problem; staying asleep has been.  For the past couple of months, I have been getting less and less sleep, and I think I know why. My brain is in a constant state of flux; an internal struggle is waging in the educational lobe of my brain. I fall asleep because I am tired; I don’t stay asleep because I’m afraid I know who’s starting to win the war- and my heart doesn’t like it. The struggle is this - Do I do what my professional training knows what is best for the whole child, or do I play by the rules set up by the political winds of the educational game? I find the differences between the two to be growing. Thus, I don’t sleep very well anymore.

The rules of game simply state students and schools are judged by onetime events. You see, the political powers that be have defined academic success as passing a test or passing a series of tests to graduate high school. For the student, it all boils down to a test. For the school, it all depends on testing - averaging the sum total of the tests given. It doesn’t matter that some students are homeless or abused or hungry or scared. It doesn’t matter that schools are facing teacher shortages, outdated textbooks, ancient buildings, rising costs, and declining per pupil revenues. The game refuses to take into consideration poverty and parental involvement; the two things research has shown to have a significant impact on learning. The game simply states students are only successful if they pass the test, and a school is only successful if 90% of the students pass the test at a time arbitrarily set by the politicians.

My professional training tells me something else. Learning is not time dependent - I wholeheartedly believe learning is an individual process without an expiration date. For some, the concept can be learned quickly without effort. For others, the concept doesn’t come as quickly, or it comes with a great deal of effort. My professional training tells me some students can find English Literature fascinating while Geometry is a waste of time. Some students argue with logic while others use emotion. My professional training tells me students from broken homes or from abject poverty or from situations of abuse and neglect need more from their teachers than test prep. My professional training tells me to love the child, give them an early foundation, and later expose them to things to foster interest and cause them to think and explore and expand the world around them.

I know brain based learning; I know the brain takes new concepts and builds upon previous knowledge. In other words, do children need to know math facts like double digit multiplication before they can do Algebra? No, doing Algebra is a behavior that can be taught just like a mouse can be taught to run through a maze. However, a student must know their math facts before they UNDERSTAND Algebra. There is a difference.  Do students need to know dystopia before they comprehend the utopian world of books like The Giver? No, students can comprehend the meaning of the words, but do the words resonate with them; is the underlying theme relevant to them? There is a difference between giving a book report over the main idea, the characters, and the setting and being moved to emotions of joy, sorrow, and empathy.

So the battle rages on - often times in the wee hours of the morning. Do I play the game to obtain the academic success for students and my school as outlined by the rule makers? Do I cast aside the political definition of academic success and follow what my professional training and my heart knows is the best course for the long term educational well being of the child? I am falling asleep quickly because I’m tired. I’m tired because I am trying to accomplish both tasks at the same time. This is the conundrum of educational leadership, and it’s exhausting.