What ought Iowa’s schools consider next?

Recently, Iowa’s new Director of the Department of Education, Jason Glass, posed three questions in his blog.

These questions got people talking – mostly online.  Mr. Glass has made himself very transparent and accessible online, particularly on Twitter.  This is a good example of best practices in leadership.

And that’s the purpose of this blog: to explore best practices in leadership. Our schools need leadership to become as effective as possible.  One such leader is today’s guest blogger, Matt Pries.

Matt Pries is an English teacher in Waukee.  If that name sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because he’s a Golden Apple award winner.  Or maybe you know him from his work advising RAK (Random Acts of Kindness), an amazing service club.  (It was on TV!)  Or maybe because he is my daughter’s Godfather.

Regardless, he is smart, visionary, and has a way with words.  He is not, however, a possessor of an online presence.  No blog, Twitter, or even Facebook for Matt.  SO – I invited him to share his response to Jason Glass’s three questions in this venue.  It’s good stuff, and I’m pleased to share it with you.  If you haven’t read Glass’s piece, please do that before continuing to read.

The rest of these words are Matt’s:

Servant leadership.  It’s good to see that phrase used.  I’m hopeful that is how our educational leadership truly operates.  I was raised to live that way, educated to live that way, and have made effort to live that way — and help my students live that way.  Thank you for utlizing that as a focus for your work.

In terms of your questions, however, the use of the word “should” is inappropriate.  Should is “law” based.  A better way to frame these questions might be with the use of the word “could”.  Should suggests there is no other way.  Should suggests use of the law in a punitive way.  Should creates responses from folks who believe their way is the only way.  Should passes judgement and can crush autonomy. Maybe we could use the phrase “let’s give some thought to” instead.

I’m a high school English teacher (14 years with two years as a college administrator) at a growing suburb of Des Moines.  I have taught in an isolated, agricultural-oriented 3A district, an agriclutural/bedroom community 2A district, and a growing 4A district.  I attended school in a large 4A district, a small 1A/2A district, and a strong 3A district.

With this experience, I suggest we give some thought to

* The discontinuation of thinking our students are the customer.  They aren’t.  Society is the customer.  Our students are the product.  How do we know what our customer really needs?  How do we know if our customer understands how the product is created?  Conversations about students not performing on tests (TESTS!) and focusing on educators/schools as the reason leaves a sour taste in my mouth.  In schools where the student population is diverse (due to culture, population, etc.), this becomes even more difficult to manage.

* The discontinuation of using tests as a way to measure student learning.

* The end of proscriptive curriculum as it is in the national and state standards/curriculum.

* The discontinuation of all teachers having to do the same thing in similar classes (is this like life? No.  And it’s not like college, either.  So we really do a disservice to our kids if we set them up for this kind of system.).

* Continuing fine arts programs in earnest in all schools.  Workplaces demand creativity.

* Giving teachers the freedom to teach what/how they want to best meet students’ needs, as long as they can prove they are meeting the standards.  And making sure innovative teachers have the money and resources necessary to do so.

* Discontinuing (or making more rigorous) masters-degree programs where the majority of classes are “sit-and-get”.

* Teachers whose students’ performance can’t be measured by standardized tests.  At upper levels, such teachers are the majority.

* Schools that demonstrate performance at exceptional levels.  What happens if they don’t improve?  Are they really failing?

* Helping teachers grow to accept that if our students fail, we, as teachers, have failed.

* Training our teachers to be leaders and motivators so they see that students are not so apathetic; we simply may not be motivating them properly — and that students are ready to serve and be motivated; we need to find the way to help them do so.

* Providing better teacher training (in terms of leadership and service) so they view their work as a calling — and maybe even see that, yes, it is our job to “make the horse drink the water”.

* Dan Pink’s analysis of motivational research: merit based pay won’t work.

* Remembering that technology is just a tool — not necessarily the answer.

* Stopping the use of “expose them to” as an argument for the use of certain texts, ideas, and methodology — and instead help students learn and grow.

* The use of current, young adult literature in place of the “classics” so more students actually read and grow to love reading again.

* The idea that our primary goal is to help students become better people who live happier lives while they grow as our students.

* The idea that relationships are the most important thing in our schools.  With positive relationships in place, we can make material more relevant.  With relevance, we can make things more rigorous.  Daggett would be happy.

2 thoughts on “What ought Iowa’s schools consider next?

  1. I completely agree with these thoughts. My hope is that the new director will also agree. Service leadership in my classroom has changed the way we operate and had an amazing impact on the culture of our organization.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Wade. I am encouraged by the willingness of Jason Glass to engage teachers, administrators, and others who care about education in Iowa.

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