“Education is being strangled by the culture of standardized testing.” – Sir Ken Robinson
“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.” – Neil Gaiman, in The Sandman
We are entering the next phase in education. Here in Florida, as in many states, a new set of standards is officially in place throughout all grades and a new assessment is on its way. The Common Core State Standards have fully arrived and will be implemented in all grade levels. Florida has modified the CCSS into the Florida Standards, but they are basically the same. I appreciate the possibilities of these standards and what creative, innovative teachers and schools can do with them. There is a definite freedom attached to these standards if they are put into place by the right people. Unfortunately too many educators are already fearful of how these new standards will be assessed. We don’t even know what the new assessment looks like; yet thoughtful, intelligent teachers are stressing about it in July! We have created a culture of standardized testing in education that seems impossible to get out of. Our entire mindsets have become programmed into believing that the only purpose of schools is to pass the end of the year assessment. How sad. Especially because these assessments could really prove beneficial if they were used in the proper way, which is to help guide and modify our instruction. The other part that is troubling is that these assessments only help raise standards in certain areas, at the expense of what education should truly be about – helping students learn how to think, learn how to learn, learn how to work with others, all in an effort to assist them in discovering their passion. The use of these assessments to evaluate students, teachers and schools has pushed aside many other areas of importance, which should be a major concern to all of us. While many students do well in the current set-up of school, there are a lot of others who drop out or finish school not knowing where they want to go with their lives.
I just finished reading Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element. This book takes a look into our definitions of intelligence and creativity, banishes the notion that any us are not intelligent or creative, and provides numerous examples of individuals who found their true calling, their passion, their element. Robinson illustrates that finding your element is really discovering yourself, your purpose for life. What would you like to do that would make you happy every day that you wake up? This may not necessarily be where you make the most money or achieve the most prestige, but finding your passion will allow you to be at peace with the world. I am extremely fortunate that I have found my element, and I’m not sure that it’s necessarily being a school principal. What I believe my element is is to to help make people’s lives better. Being a principal does allow me the opportunity to affect many lives on a daily basis. Creating the conditions of a positive school environment brings me great joy, knowing that I am influencing the school staff and hopefully getting them to enjoy coming to “work” each day.
What I am most passionate about though is our students and attempting to provide experiences for them that are rewarding and that will help each of them find out who they truly are. I believe that whatever standards we are teaching toward, we should view these as criteria for excellence and not specific guidelines that script our teaching. The standards should be utilized to ensure that our students are achieving at a high level, but should never provide the definition of how to get there. Let’s take a step back and appreciate that the concept of these new standards is for more freedom for teachers and schools to implement their own creativity into the learning process. Let’s use the standards as goals, but let’s not teach to a test anymore. Let’s create genuine learning experiences for our students that include choice, relevancy, opportunities for inquiry and collaboration, and a means for students to have their voices heard. This is not a time to be fearful, but a time of great promise. Let’s seize this moment as educators to instill our own passion into what we do. Find ways to include your own element into your teaching and, in doing so, I believe that you will awaken the passion in your students. Don’t bow down to standards. Transcend them and teach our students things worth knowing.