11. The Pursuit of Quality Learning Requires a Different Kind of Teaching Environment

The National PTA still exists and is a viable organization. The Parent-Teacher Association has historically been a significant player in American schools. A similar group is the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO), with a slightly different agenda. Both groups advocate partnerships that advance the quality of education.

Most parents attempt to be supportive of elementary schools. That enthusiastic support dwindles in grades seven and eight. And diminishes even more at the high school level. But there is still a need for partnership. For engagement.

The reason I mention those two groups, and others less well known, relates to the “bridge” metaphor used earlier. Those infrastructure connections between teachers and families have been weakened and need significant repair.

School reform efforts related to NCLB changed the partnership dynamic so much that accountability shifted away from local interactions. Instead, they became a fulfillment of expectations set out by state and national governments. Or their proxies appointed to create standards and high stakes tests.

It is one more reason the new learning infrastructure cannot be governmentally micromanaged. Partnerships at the local level are critical. But they are being superseded by policies and regulations emanating from powerful agencies and state and federal decision-makers.

And there is an even bigger problem. That American teachers are being ground down by overbearing bureaucracies that have reduced them to being pawns in the political and regulatory system. Assembly line employees asked to promote mass mediocrity instead of learning quality.  

American teachers must be tangibly assisted in overcoming feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability. Those feelings, already prevalent in our culture, have been exacerbated over the past 20 years by NCLB and dictates emanating from that era.

That problem is thoroughly examined and discussed in CLI’s resource titled The Teacher as Somebody: Skills that Make Teaching a True Profession. It is an issue so fundamental that anything else done in the new learning infrastructure depends on how quickly it can be addressed and corrected.

Mary Chapman’s Story Part 9

I graduated from the university in 2016 at age 22, having completed my unique preparation for teaching. The significance of that fact was lost on me until I talked with my supervisor in the professional development school where I completed my field internship.

She realized my age was seven when the No Child Left Behind mandate was instituted. A first grader. Which means my indoctrination to NCLB thinking, albeit as a young student, began before I knew anything else.

Obviously, I did not know what the teachers were thinking, or doing in compliance with the new regulations. Nor did I have any feeling about it.

School was just school.

My parents did not discuss it much. They seemed to recognize something new was going on with school improvement but did not question its effectiveness. Occasionally I heard them talking about incompetent teachers they once had, and that holding poor teachers accountable was a good thing.

And that was my perspective on education until I graduated from high school in 2012. What did I care about school reform and new types of holding schools accountable? I just studied what I was told, took the required tests, and was happy to throw my mortarboard into the air upon graduation.

My first two years of college were typical. My classes were okay, and I enjoyed making friends and participating in activities. I had already decided to pursue a teaching career, unlike many fellow students.

The emphasis on women entering technical fields was already beginning, and many girls in my sorority and classes were tempted. Especially those demonstrating a real aptitude for math.

We heard many of the university’s officials tell us jobs for women who enter engineering and other technical pursuits were ours for the asking. It was a carryover from the affirmative action days. But was much more than mere compliance with regulations. The idea of including women in jobs previously dominated by men was seeping into the culture.

My purpose in life is to help others in both academic and emotional realms. The crossover point is leadership. But I knew 22-year-old female college graduates are not going to be hired to fill managerial roles.

With one exception, and that was the military.

The army was encouraging young college women to participate in ROTC, with the promise of being commissioned as officers upon graduation. My uncle was an army officer and told me how surprised he was to be given so much leadership responsibility right from the “get-go.”

But a military way of life did not appeal to me. While it could be a good career move, its fundamental purpose for existence bothered me. I realized it was a wonderful way to serve and defend my country, but those actions are ultimately accomplished through violence.

Not my forte!  

In some ways the Peace Corps was the flip side of time in the military, so I investigated that option as well. The service aspect of the program appealed to me but, like missionary work, the long-term career benefits were reported to be negligible.   

The mother of one of my classmates and good friend was an industrial trainer. She was active in the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and an accomplished speaker and workshop leader in the electronics industry.

It was the kind of alternative career goal in which I could have been interested. But I wanted to work with young people. Not adults.

However, what I learned about my classmate’s mother and her work intrigued me. As I listened to the story about her mother’s work, I began to gain a few insights.  

Prior to becoming an industrial trainer, “Beverly” was a specialist in the information technology (IT) field and an expert in web site development. Her college background in math and electrical engineering also proved invaluable in digital hardware and software work.

Over time, employers moved Beverly into training positions so she could offer others the benefit of her education and training. Unlike other “techies,” my friend’s mother turned out to be a gifted speaker and writer. Mostly because she was extremely well organized, had a personality that encouraged student involvement, and could effectively do her work either onsite or virtually.

Many of Beverly’s clients thought of her as a “personality with smarts.” More important, follow-up evaluations of her work proved she was making a discernable difference in the effectiveness of her trainees. They applied her teachings in their own work. Most important was the way those new applications showed up in terms of product quality.

When Beverly entered the field, American industry was still in the throes of Total Quality Management. TQM was a spinoff movement initiated by William Edwards Deming, and operationalized in Japan after World War II. “The Deming Management Method” revolutionized industry by a powerful emphasis on methods to achieve quality.

Prior to Deming, American industry had let itself slip into a kind of competitive hubris, which allowed mass production and marketing to become more important than quality of product and service. When that fallacy resulted in loss of profits, American industrialists started paying more attention to how quality can be achieved constantly and profitably.

Beverly believed in Deming’s philosophy, and convinced the profit-focused clients and employees she trained that nothing is more important than quality. Over the decades Deming’s “quality” principles have been vindicated many times.

Deming’s ideas seem simple on the surface. But there is considerable depth. Reflecting on what my education professors told me about the new learning infrastructure, parallels with the Deming Model popped up everywhere. Substitute “quality of product and service” with “mastery learning” and the similarities are striking.

The similarities can be seen in HOW mastery and quality of product and service are attained:

  • Deming’s “constancy of purpose” aligns with ongoing ways to govern an academic program.
  • Deming’s call to “cease dependence on external inspection and depend on making constant evaluations” aligns with the need to drop high stakes tests and continually check for learning mastery.
  • Deming’s advocacy of “building employee leadership” aligns with giving teachers greater professional responsibility and authority.

What I learned about Beverly’s work was a segue into my teacher education program. It started to open my eyes to what I really wanted to be as a teacher.

Not just someone who goes through the motions with students. But as a leader who engages and inspires them. Inspires them to become more than simply what others expect in the way of minimal proficiency.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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