The story recounting the emergence of the new learning infrastructure now circles back to Mary Chapman, the young undergraduate student preparing for a career as a middle or secondary school science teacher.
After graduation Mary was hired by the district featured in this story. She became friends with another teacher, Barbara, who now chairs the communications subject area committee. Because of Barbara, Mary was appointed to the curriculum council. She chairs the future science subject area committee and serves as a liaison member of Barbara’s SAC.
As a member of the curriculum council, Mary listens intently to the conversation. The basis of the new learning infrastructure is opposite of the traditional academic management model. A traditional model in which teachers are subservient agents for those who write standards and curriculum. And prepare and administer high stakes summative tests.
Mary senses that she and her unique university training places her in a delicate position. She is a neophyte with skills older teachers do not have.
But for the district to implement the new learning infrastructure, teachers must also learn.
Rebecca Encourages the Council to Decide
Ken and I agree we need a “go / no go” decision from the council.
No middle ground. No place to compromise or ride the fence.
A vote to “go” means:
- Teachers will play a significantly larger role in creating and implementing curriculum.
- Students will be encouraged to actively reflect on the factual material they learn.
- Student progress will be measured by teachers using multiple methods and strategies.
- Scholarship will be defined as engagement leading to insightful and creative behaviors.
Current teachers and those to-be-hired must prepare to work differently. They will need thorough instruction —ongoing on-the-job-training that is intense and dynamic.
A big commitment. If the council votes to move forward, backed by the school board, the ramifications are immense.
The two most significant pressures:
(1) working against current bureaucratic and political perspectives
(2) transforming teachers into fully professional decision-makers and practitioners.
A few days before meeting with the council I talked with Barbara and Mary. Would Mary be alarmed at the prospect of being a key local resource for implementing the new learning infrastructure? Especially about being a professional decision-maker and practitioner.
Our outside consultants would provide leadership both online and in person. But Mary would be recognized as the onsite expert. Her role includes how:
- the new model is structured.
- it impacts thinking and planning.
- to write curriculum with specific kinds of instruction.
- to write curriculum with specific kinds of assessment.
- to create lesson plan resource documents.
- to develop teaching/learning contracts.
Those tasks would not hit all at once. Nevertheless, to most teachers and administrators they would look gigantic, especially with COVID causing havoc in almost every aspect of school functioning.
Maybe the pandemic and its aftermath would push the curriculum council toward giving the new learning infrastructure a thumbs up.
With little debate.
People are clearly tired of fighting pandemic-related battles. A return to “normal” is a false dream. That normal condition is now buried under the public perception of educational dysfunction.
The two board members serving on the council believed other board members felt as they did. Rearranging deck chairs would not save a sinking ship.
Wasn’t it time to stop trying to save a program not worth saving? To commit to building something new and better.
Even if that meant stretching folks, however expensive and time-consuming.
Bryon and Vernon, the two board members on the council, wanted answers. So did Molly and David, the two patrons.
- How will the new learning infrastructure overcome pandemic-related problems with teaching and student learning?
- How soon will the new model be in place?
- How will it renew the mission of our schools and regain public confidence?
- How much will it cost?
Practical and necessary questions. The challenge was to make the answers just as straightforward.
I would try to provide answers but expected others in the group to offer additional perspectives. Mary wanted to provide an answer for the first question, about overcoming pandemic-related problems with teaching and learning.
“I am young and new to teaching. But my teacher education courses caused me to believe the pandemic did not need to be as problematic as it was. And still is.
“One of my professors used an analogy to explain why.
“We buy products both in stores and online. Products in stores can be seen, touched, tasted, tried on, and operated. Sales personnel are rarely available. Products are placed on shelves and customers select what they like.
“The same products sold online are pictured, described, and consumer attested to. With specific uses and advantages, tools for assessing quality, and policies for making exchanges. Some have sites for a live chat. Delivery is easily available through the post office or other services.
“To compete with online sales strategies, traditional retailers have started their own online services. Even if the product is to be picked up at a brick and mortar store.
“Onsite school programs are too much like traditional brick and mortar stores. Their product is available for those interested in them, with a sales force (teachers) available to inform, answer questions or give guidance.
“That approach to teaching does not work with online learning. Just as store-based marketing techniques do not work with online sales.
“Passive approaches to sales AND education must be replaced with dynamic methods, carefully designed and assertively implemented.
“For both online and onsite schooling, we need a dynamic and not a passive curriculum. Focused, meticulously written, and gauged to work in any kind of delivery system.”
Everyone looked at Mary with amazement.
Ken said, “Your professor’s analogy makes sense to me, but what exactly is a dynamic curriculum? Is it the kind of thing we’ve been discussing, one focused on mastery (or adroitness) and constructed with specific intentions for learning? With measurable verbs and specific content fields?”
“Exactly,” Mary said. “My training stressed the idea that curriculum is useless as ‘topics covered.’ Just as products in stores are of little interest as ‘displays.’ The word dynamic means action, forcefulness, movement, and engagement.”
Ken said, “Developing that kind of curriculum, with teachers fully involved, will no doubt take much time and effort. Is that true?”
Mary nodded. “That’s true, but I was surprised how quickly we teacher education students learned how to do it. The reason it became easier is because it is logical and makes sense.”
Logical and makes sense resonated with everyone. But the next two questions remain: How long and how much?
It would take a few years and be expensive. The consultants said the process would be ongoing. But the first portion would align with the long-range plan already developed.
About seven to nine years.
The cost would be somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 per school year. A task the board could work on after the proposal was presented and approved.
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