31. Subject Area Mastery Statement – Structure for Discussion

Winston Churchill said Americans can be counted on to do the right thing after trying everything else.

There is more than humor in that observation.

Americans have argued since the beginning of our nation. Yet, that ongoing rancor often results in unexpected unity. Like the married couple who constantly battles with each other yet resents anyone else telling them how to behave. Or what to believe.

Their relationship depends on bickering. 

I have tried to understand the psychology behind that phenomenon.

Stubbornness is clearly at play. Culturally rooted convictions are often involved. Our history is rife with how differences of opinion result in open combat — struggles for political or social dominance.

A social dance we perform with each other until something unexpected intercedes. Or insight and reflection give us a different perspective. We authentically change our outlook and behavior because something in our brain is triggered internally.

Not because another person or authority figure FORCES us to think differently.

As a consultant to schools, I listen as much as advocate. The process is intellectual engagement. The person with whom I work realizes we have a common responsibility.

That commonality is meeting the needs of those depending on us — the school’s students.

Meeting the needs of students makes “being personally right” backburner stuff. How we fulfill our larger and more important mission transcends isolated opinions.

Especially true with those in a profession dedicated to serving others.

I have worked with hundreds of subject area committees and curriculum councils. Some will listen to me when they do not listen to each other. A phenomenon based on the myth that expert consultants live 50 – 100 miles away.

My job as a change agent is easier than what local leaders face. But clearly, the only difference is the fact I have been down the same road many times before. In other districts with similar or identical challenges.

Because of that experience, I have insight into what works and what does not work.

As members of the local staff, Barbara and Mary, with Rebecca’s help, need to build credibility at the local level. Navigating that challenge requires a procedural structure.  

Barbara and Mary’s Story – Part 6

With Rebecca’s help, we initiated discussion by analyzing the work draft of the language arts mastery statement. Key elements were taken from four of the five points Rebecca provided. To help clarify thinking and responses. Stated in positive terms:

  • Public education should stimulate and enhance the ability to think and reflect.
  • The ability of students to think and reflect comes from experiences that emphasize systematic analysis over time.
  • The ability to think and reflect are regularly evaluated. Consistently demonstrated and creative behaviors can and should be the result.
  • The ability to think and reflect comes from an encouragement to use data, researched findings to explore nuances and the abstract “what ifs” of our world.  

For purposes of discussing merits of the work draft, we condensed each of the four points to one-word identifiers similar to those found in Bloom’s Taxonomy:

  • Reflecting
  • Analyzing
  • Evaluating
  • Creating

Assuming members of the subject area committee accept the importance of curricular depth over breadth, review of the work draft concentrates on the following:

  • Extent to which it stimulates those four behaviors in students (Significant/Partial/None).
  • Time required to meet intended student learning outcomes (Excessive/Considerable/Some).
  • Teaching methods required to teach outcomes (Highly Interactive/Dynamic/Creative).
  • Power of the process to advance personal and academic growth through acquiring evidence and applying creative thinking (Considerable/Significant/Some).

To facilitate discussion, we set up the work draft in tabular form. The table consists of the draft itself and an adjacent column to record comments. The table is also shown on a computer projection, thereby allowing us to record group conclusions during the discussion.

Students participating in and completing the district’s language arts curriculum will master outcomes corresponding with written intentions for learning at grade level. Among those intentions for learning are the following:  

•Defining reality in the context of decisions made valid through background knowledge and evidence.
•Gaining insight into human interactions and behaviors as depicted in literature that discusses cultural influences, thereby gaining an appreciation and respect for diversity.
•Interpreting problem solving as the ability of human beings to consider challenges, weigh the accuracy of options found in all types of literature, conduct trial and error tests, and work in teams to create and evaluate possible or probable solutions.
•Establishing a working definition of creativity as being an authentic learning goal, characterized by the dynamic nurturance and acceptance of novel ideas, proposals, and behaviors that depict curiosity and devotion to some endeavor.
•Demonstrating responsible behaviors in the context of what is read as valuable in terms of good taste, logical reasoning, and instructive to readers as guidelines for living and learning. Responsible behaviors are manifested in written works reflective of the writer’s own creativity, ability to express ideas, opinions and factual information offered through quality syntax. 
•Developing, through reading and writing, an appreciation for competition based on valuable insight, examples of moral/cognitive/physical self-improvement, and willingness to take risks for reasons other than self-aggrandizement. Accepting persuasiveness based on conviction and improving the common good as the appropriate model for entrepreneurial enterprise.
•Accepting the idea that reading, writing, speaking, listening, and interacting through language is the basis of lifelong and worthwhile learning.
•Using literature and other media as catalysts essential for making learning a conscious, intentional, and ongoing part of life.
•Making curiosity a fundamental part of living and becoming, through reading or accessing diverse forms of media on a regular and ongoing basis.
•Inquiring through the use of questions posed appropriately and regularly.
•Participating in the interchange of vigorous and stimulating ideas in which feedback is welcomed.
•Recognizing the acquisition of self-confidence as the result of taking initiatives in widening groups. Using insights taken from literature and other media, and applying skills in speaking, writing, and listening to the act of reaching out.
•Placing oneself where encouragement of others is given and received.
•Practicing the art of mindfulness by being sensitive to prioritize actions and responses, particularly through effective oral and written communication.
•Articulating the meaning and practice of self-discipline and development of personal values, reinforced by the reading of quality literature, and the viewing of uplifting media.
•Interacting with others easily based on the art of conversation by maintaining the habit of staying engaged with the world and listening carefully.   
•Pursuing knowledge and sharing that knowledge with humility and sincerity through both speaking and writing.

We knew even more groundwork needed to be laid before opening discussion with the SAC members.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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