Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Patronizing Teachers for the Core

When you read this sentence at the start of a blog post, you know things are about to head south rapidly:

One of the most frequent questions I get from coaches is about how to coach teachers in the Common Core (CCSS).

This is the lede from "Coaching Towards the Common Core State Standards" over at Ed Week. Our coaching...um...coach is Elena Aguilar. More about her in a second. First, let's see what handy advice she has for us.

First, the scary!

Aguilar wants coaches to remember to acknowledge the feelings of the teachers they work with.

First, this is all very scary. This--the Common Core and its associated changes--is rather terrifying for teachers and administrators.

Mind you, their feelings of scarediness are not actually justified.

In fact, CCSS creates an opportunity for everyone in the education system to reflect on and make changes in many traditional practices and approaches. This is promising--there's a whole lot that needs to change in order for kids to get what they need, but it's also very scary. 

Aguilar comes from the Fight the Straw Teacher school of CCSS boosterism.

Some of the core practices in CCSS require phenomenal higher order thinking skills, collaborative learning, deep questioning of content and learning; there's a chance that in the future, in true CCSS-aligned classrooms, kids won't be sitting in rows listening to lectures and regurgitating facts on a test. But the rate of change is dizzying and this is what we, as coaches, need to manage. And change brings feelings.  

Oh, yes. All the feelings. But mind you, the feelings are just about the scariness of change, and the ways in which we will have to teach our students to do hard thinky things, and having to give up our slates and chalk. We might even have to give up coming to school in horses and buggies and honest to goodness, have I been teaching the last thirty-five years in some sort of unique teaching utopia while everyone else in the country is teaching like some combination of a nineteenth century schoolmaster and Archie Andrew's Miss Grundy? Because once again, I see a CCSS booster making both inaccurate characterizations of what was previously going on while over-promising the effects of CCSS. Because the single biggest factor pushing drill and regurgitation and thinkless schoolwork into my classroom has been NCLB and Common Core testing.

Sigh. Aguilar notes that coaches will hear complaints along the line of "I feel as if I'm being told to throw out years of what I've learned about how to teach and start over." Well, yes.

And then Aguilar gets one thing right:

First, recognize that teachers who are experiencing these kinds of emotions are feeling like their identities as educators are no longer relevant--they feel as if they are being asked to be different people. This is a very unique and difficult kind of pain--they feel like who they are is no longer valued, that the teacher they spent years developing is not longer relevant.

So the coach needs to recognize these feelings. Though again, not actually validate them or recognize that they have basis in reality. I am imagining Aguilar coaching ER physicians that when somebody has been stabbed with a knife, you must acknowledge that they feel pain, and that's pretty much it. Never mind the actual injury. 

Then it gets worse.

The second aspect of this kind of a statement that coaches will need to address is the teacher's lack of understanding of why he or she is being asked to change...What we experience as resistance in teachers often comes from a lack of understanding.

Got that? If you are opposed to or upset by or otherwise not embracing the Common Core, it's because you just don't understand it, poor dear. Holy smokes! Is there anything more patronizing than an attitude of "Well, any right-thinking person who understands the issues would, of course, agree with me. If you don't agree with me, it can only mean that your grasp of the issues is just not as advanced as mine." Is Aguilar really prepared to say to all the folks who invest so much time and energy in opposing the Core that all of them are just not as enlightened as she?! I hardly know where to begin, but perhaps we could start with results from the PDK/Gallup poll or the reform-friendly Education Next poll, both of which suggest that the more people know about the Core, the less they like it.

Aguilar also throws in that old standard "they were implemented too fast." I've addressed this before, but the short answer is that Too Fast was the only way the standards were ever going to be implemented.

Build bridges

Aguilar suggests that coaches find something, somewhere in the teacher's practice that already fits with Common Core and build on that as a way of soothing the poor, anxious, ignorant trained education professional.

This combined with explaining the why of the Core (which Aguilar doesn't really do in this piece) will help the teacher get over the Big Scariness. "Common Core is scary. I can't say that enough." Build bridges. Explain why. "Help her add some feelings to the overflowing bucket of emotion, feelings of excitement and hope."

But at no point should you ever entertain the notion that the teacher's misgivings about the Core are based on sound professional judgment, an understanding of what the Core and its attendant reforms represent, or a mature reflection on her practice and how reforms propose to alter it. Instead, lump all pushback under the heading of Teacher Be Scared, which is of course an irrational visceral gut-based reaction, like a deer spooked by a loud noise.

Who is this woman?

You can read more about Elena Aguilar here at her website. She started out as a substitute teacher and decided to "pursue teaching" by way of Teach for America (raise your hand if you're surprised). To give her credit, however, she stayed in the classroom for a good twelve years, transitioned to instructional coach, and then transitioned into running a consulting business. Her specialty is transformational coaching, and she has consulted for everyone from TFA to charters to public schools, so I suppose she could be coming to your school soon. Try not to be scared.



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