Tuesday, June 4, 2013

3 ways to decrease the teacher dropout crisis

Guest post by Eric Williams @ewilliams65

Ron Maggiano, an award-winning teacher in Virginia recently announced his retirement, stating, “I can no longer cooperate with a testing regime that I believe is suffocating creativity and innovation in the classroom.” Maggiano is not alone. In an ongoing blog post, Lisa Nielsen uses text and video to tell the story of teacher dropouts. The stories of teacher dropouts share a common theme, a concern for the impact of high stakes testing.

Advocating for education reform is one way to decrease teacher dropouts. But don’t stop there educators.

1)  Share stories of students doing meaningful work with value that extends far beyond preparation for success on standardized tests. Share these stories with your colleagues and others with whom you learn.

Your stories of students’ meaningful work provide much needed inspiration. In this era of high stakes testing, it is easy for educators to feel as if they lack control. The weight of the system seems to take away options for meaningful learning. Your stories of students doing meaningful work provide powerful affirmations of what we can accomplish in spite of high stakes testing. Your stories illustrate that educators retain a measure of control, even in difficult situations.

Your stories with pedagogical specifics also provide assistance to other teachers. How do you select learning objectives that are worthy of the sustained focus involved with deep learning? How do your students demonstrate their understanding? How do you assess their work? What dilemmas do you face and how are you considering overcoming these dilemmas?

In sharing stories of students’ meaningful work, focus both on your students and the students of other educators. Your storytelling constitutes an important celebration that reinforces the efforts of your colleagues.

2) Seek assistance from others to address the dilemmas you face in designing and facilitating meaningful work. Share a specific dilemma. Perhaps you worry that the open-ended nature of a project you assigned resulted in students requiring more time than you’d like to devote to a particular project. How should you balance structure and student choice in the project design?

3) Administrators should avoid learned helplessness. We cannot assume that we are powerless cogs in the testing regime. Ask yourself...
  • Do we take actions or establish policies and procedures that mistakenly reinforce a content coverage mentality, rather than a perspective that emphasizes meaningful learning? 
  • Do we organize school level pep rallies before testing without ever holding exhibitions or celebrations of meaningful student work? 
  • Do we dictate extensive, low-quality formative assessment that drives instruction with a focus on rote memorization?

Stories of great teachers dropping out will continue to be told. High stakes testing constitutes a powerful antagonist. Let’s tell stories with compelling protagonists who promote meaningful work by students with value that extends far beyond preparation for success on standardized tests!

Related Links:
The Joy of Teaching and Learning                                                                                                     

Eric Williams, Ed.D., serves as a Superintendent of a school district in Virginia.  You can connect with Williams via Twitter (@ewilliams65) or through his blog at http://promotingstudentengagement.blogspot.com/.

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