26. Transformation Requires Leaving a Comfort Zone and Exploring the Unknown

As Mary continues her work with the language arts subject area committee, she leaves a personal and professional comfort zone. Just as much as those on the committee.

While there are a few overlaps, a science curriculum is not the same as language arts.

Language arts is a necessary amalgam of skillsets — a maddening array of topics and word configurations designed to stimulate and elicit emotion. A far cry from science as defined in traditional terms.

Even Barbara finds leadership of the language arts SAC to be challenging.

Grades kindergarten through grade three teachers see language arts as a combination of skill building (reading and writing) and sparking the imagination of young people through storytelling and acting out.

Upper elementary grade teachers further hone basic reading and writing skills. They also introduce students to more sophisticated forms of literature and composition.

Middle and high school teachers use literature and composition as catalysts for deepening student interest and ability in reflection, creativity, and insight.

Members of the SAC have been told they are professional decision-makers through the “walls analysis” process. That is important.

But they must know the new curriculum is more than a matter of sorting and sifting the old curriculum. With new sequences and extent of coverage.

The language arts curriculum must accept key elements of the district mastery statement. It must acknowledge the role of the discipline in developing a well-rounded adult who contributes in a positive way. And appreciates the wonders of the world through meaningful words and expressions.

Mary will work with Barbara in guiding the creation of the subject area’s mastery statement. Thereby expanding the self-perception of teachers as academic leaders.

 Mary’s Story: The Next Chapter – Part 2

Barbara gave me an assignment while the language arts SAC members were conducting the “walls analysis.” To apply an old farm expression, it was a “prime the pump” action involving two parts.

One was to pull apart the district’s mastery statement and find the portions that spoke directly to the language arts discipline. The second was to locate language arts mastery statements being used by other districts or suggested by organizations — advocates for better language arts teaching.

The ultimate purpose of the assignment was to help teachers accustomed to procedural skill development to overcome or modify old habits. Among those old habits were: scope and sequence priorities, a cover the curriculum mentality, and hyper concern about meeting tested standards.

The tricky part was to help teachers modify, not dismiss old habits. What we were doing was evolutionary, not revolutionary. A distinction that could be lost on some teachers. Many older teachers were accustomed to radical forms of school improvement.

But the new learning infrastructure is not about throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

It is a merging of what we know is good for student learning and what is even better.

Below are elements I found in the district’s mastery statement that needed discussion and reflection. I decided to put everything in tabular form to do a side-by-side analysis of each point on the left and language arts interpretations on the right.

The longer I worked to align the district’s mastery statement with language arts, the more I realized how fundamental language arts is to virtually everything else in the district’s curriculum. Language arts is the piano of education — the basis for everything.

Everything in human learning depends on communication. Science and math are no exception. Numbers, symbols, problem solving equations, research strategies, construction, and virtually everything else depends on being able to understand others through language.  

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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