After my kids left for the day, my principal commented on how “crazy” I am given my insistence on this adventure. Ha-ha I thought to myself, inside knowing that my kids got dirty with their learning today- real hands-on stuff that they will surely remember down the road. As I sat and reflected on the project, I got to thinking about how important it is that teachers take the lead in re-defining what learning looks like, sounds, and feels like. I know, as a new-bee to STEM instruction (a facet of learning that my district has yet to embrace) that I have significant learning to do myself in order to ensure that these kinds of projects are targeted and comprehensive in their outcomes with students. I gave thought to ways that I could better integrate cross-content learning into this work next year: math calculations, measurement, forces as well as deeper reading and writing that would increase student’s knowledge and vocabulary on a range of related topics. But I also reflected on the lesson that I shared with my students and peers which was that learning is kind of messy. Its not always something that happens on a warm sunny day...sometimes you just have to experiment in the rain. Before leaving for the night, I proudly tweeted “Forget low level worksheets!”
Now that the state legislature has adjourned, I am finding myself taking a step back to consider the new measures and direction we are headed in Colorado school policy. Throughout our most recent session, Colorado legislators considered and discussed a plethora of new legislation that could dramatically impact our public schools throughout the state. As a local educator, I found myself at times nail bitingly nervous about the potential decisions in the pipeline and at other times relieved or even encouraged by the direction of our state’s ed policy. Mostly, my concerns were that our improvement efforts were moving ahead an inch and then falling back ten feet. There was once discussion in the state about repealing the standards and pulling out of the assessment consortiums entirely and even the mere prospect of this caused me much concern. Really, my fear throughout this last legislative session was that politics would cloud our judgement about the core issues affecting teachers and students across the state, and really, the bottom line is that each and every Colorado citizen is directly affected by our public school system and it is our responsibility to ensure that our schools effectively prepare our students for productive and fruitful lives after they leave the twelfth grade. The question, and of course controversy, has been how to turn this from theory to practice.
As a 5th grade classroom teacher and active advocate in state and national efforts to implement high quality standards and assessments, this legislative session gave me some moments of pause. In the three and a half years that I have been a part of the reforming of our public school system, I have realized that:
- Education is the path to a better future for our state’s youth- our students need clear guidelines, expectations and paths leading them consistently and reliably toward the future ahead. The Colorado Academic Standards are clear, concise and provide direct alignment to the skills and knowledge they need to be successful after high school. To throw these out would be a waste of valuable time and resources and most importantly, would negatively impact all students in all schools across the state. We must give our talented and committed educators the time to learn and implement the standards, and like our students, this doesn’t happen overnight. Its a process that requires practice and revision, but one that is truly worth it.
- Our students of today will be our leaders in the future- we have a responsibility to give them honest and accurate feedback about how they are progressing. From this information, we as teachers gain valuable insight into the deeper needs of our students and can then plan the necessary lessons to support them as they acquire new and important knowledge and skills. High quality assessments ensure that we are not wasting student’s time, but instead they they are taking a test that is worthwhile and provides them and us with the right kind of information to support ongoing growth, learning and success both in and out of the classroom.
- We live in a constantly evolving world - the world is changing and as educators it is our responsibility to adapt accordingly. Prior to the adoption of the Colorado Academic Standards, often kids were taught using low level worksheets, simplistic texts and assessed using poor quality tests. This combination of factors resulted in an educational system that did not keep pace with the world around us. Now, educators have come together to write quality standards and tests that result in exciting changes to our instruction and practice. Now, we have standards that provide opportunities to challenge students to think and problem solve and rigorous college and career readiness tests that actually measure those same important skills. We simply can’t stick with what we have always done...we, as a nation, must innovate with our students if we want to contend with countries around the world.
So, I think that I can wrap up this mixed post about messy learning, the future and the work of our legislature by leaving you with this: We ask our students to take risks, and to make the world a better place. We don’t encourage them to quickly give up. Lets make sure that we as adults, parents, teachers, and friends model that same commitment to improving the quality of our schools through careful consideration and compromise that keeps the interests of our students first. We need to stay the course with the standards and assessments that qualified educators worked together to create for our kids and embrace that learning and growing sometimes require a little mud on our hands.