At the second school we visited, unlike the first school where we wandered around the school on our own, we were lead around by the principal to various classrooms. This made me feel a bit uncomfortable. The tour had a feeling of showiness; it felt like we were seeing just what she wanted us to see and nothing else. There were a few other things that worried me as well.
1) One of the things the principal was most proud of were the bulletin boards outside of the classrooms. They had examples of student work with lesson design information. I kept asking myself, “what student benefit this could have?” One of the other teachers in my group commented that he liked the idea of showcasing student work. I asked him about the effects on students for having their rubrics (including scores) displayed in public for the whole school to see. I asked him about the pressure put on students who’s work was displayed and what the learning focus might be of students looking at old, finished units? After our conversation, the bulletin boards didn’t have the same luster to him.
2) As we were moving through the hallways, the principal paused for a moment at an open classroom and said, “Look, we also use technology” as she pointed at students using laptops. There was no explanation of how they were using technology, or how it was transformational, or how it aided their learning, or what struggles they had with it…just, ‘look, technology.’ When asked about various specifics about their implementation of various transformational strategies, the principal would look either to the AP (who would give the same searching look back to her) or the teacher who would scramble to come up with an answer. There seemed to be no top down direction. The administrators knew the lingo to use, but failed to understand the why or how.
3) One of the things that worried me the most was the way that we would burst into classrooms. It didn’t seem to matter to the principal that the teachers were busy working with students. She would just ask them to stop everything to talk to us. In one instance, we walked into a Spanish classroom and the teacher was asked to describe not what he was doing with his Spanish class, but instead, what his business class was doing. I wanted to apologize to the teacher and students for taking them away from their learning, but it looked to me, unfortunately, like they were used to it.
4) At the end of the day, during our debrief, the principal stayed in the room reminding us of all the wonderful things we had seen. What was this? Was she showing us innovative, transformative ideas for education? Or was she trying to show us how awesome her school was?
I wanted to hear not only the school’s triumphs, but also their struggles. If I was to implement some of the strategies they showcased, it would be beneficial to learn from their mistakes. Transformation should be messy. We need to have an open conversation with one another if we are to improve education; if we’re too concerned about how we look to others, we can’t put our effort in the right place and truly transform education.