Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Teach Wisely, Teach Well

This article was first posted at Dangerously Irrelevant on September 21, 2010

The Current Landscape

These are challenging times in the current landscape of learning and teaching. The standards movement is pressing upon us and students and teachers are being measured in the narrowest of ways. I know that any and every measurement can tell me something about a child and I fear that focusing on any one measurement can be dangerous. The biggest mistake we can make is to be single-minded. Concentrating on a standardized score or focusing on only the standards that we are required to teach will not allow us the opportunity to create a variety of rich, interactive, collaborative and thoughtful experiences that enrich learning and teaching.

In the worst situations, it’s not the data that is problematic but how the data is interpreted, generalized, and misused to make educational decisions. I think that all measurements can be helpful in creating a clear and precise profile of a learner. I tend to lean toward more authentic measurements and what they tell me about students. However, every piece of data is a piece of the puzzle. What the results can do is help to clarify the most effective instruction and be responsive to each student’s needs. Some knowledge and skills are easily measured. Some are not. When it comes right down to it, a good teacher knows her students well and teaches in response to what she knows about the individual child.

I worry that we look at standards the way we narrow a Google map search on. We can narrow in on the smallest of detail. But knowing the big picture is also important. We can consider standards, measurements and data and completely lose sight of the bigger picture. Each educational measure we put in place is a part of the whole and we must not forget that. What does a standard or a test score tell us about a student’s persistence or level of self-efficacy? How can we support students by giving them the skills they need for more critical thinking, inquiry and thoughtful pursuits.

What Next?

Whether or not we agree with standards and accountability, it is an immense part of the learning landscape. So we need to help others understand its place in the big picture.

The most important question we can ask when we are presented with any kind of measurement of progress is to ask “What next?” How will we formulate learning experiences that will move each child forward. What will we focus on? What are the strengths of the child and how can we teach from those strengths instead of looking at the deficits?

Causations for low and even high performance are being generalized. Some educators are guessing why students perform the way they do and linking to practices that may not have a positive impact on student learning. In some cases, we are instituting programs and practices that detour us from focusing on 21st century skills. If anything the standards and data-driven accountability fuel the need to speak out, to do what is right for kids, to broaden our perspective on what counts as learning.


· Stay the course and make decisions based on what’s right for kids

· Embrace 21st century learning

· Use measurement results to teach from a child’s strengths

· Be political. Let your thoughts be heard.

While it’s the most challenging time in education, it is also the most exciting. We are increasing the potential for our students to be active and participatory learners. We are encouraging them to build a learning community both locally and globally that will help them reach success. We cannot abandon our efforts to give our students what they will need to help them be successful in learning and life.

Karen Szymusiak is principal of Glacier Ridge Elementary in Dublin, Ohio. She can be found online at Karen has coauthored Beyond Leveled Books, Still Learning to Read, and Day to Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop. Her favorite moments are those spent with children. She says, "If we really listen to children, they tell us all there is to know about teaching wisely and well."


  1. Karen,
    I was thrilled to see your blog back in my blogroll. This is such a timely piece with the discussions this week about education, reform, and accountability throughout the media. Considering the big picture is so important. As a teacher I collect data on my students in multiple ways in varying situations. I do worry that I draw the correct conclusions from this data. Am I choosing the best instructional practices for the child?

    I wonder sometimes if the push for accountability (though I think it has had some positive impacts on education) has actually narrowed our focus and keeps us from the very thing we aspire to. Are we measuring what we value?

    I'm hoping you'll keep blogging (though I know the challenge of fitting it all in). I'm thinking there will be much to talk about with your upcoming PLP work. (OK, and I'm just hoping to learn from all of you!)


  2. I agree with this post.. Being a teacher is a great position and a very impressive job. Biochemistry Essays