By LAURA THOMAS
“I’ll just wait this one out. It’ll be gone in a year. It’s just the latest fad.” As a school coach, I’ve often referred to the magpie syndrome in which administrators seem compelled to add every new, shiny initiative to their district nests.
But today, listening to this report from New Hampshire Public Radio, I found myself surprised when a teacher featured on the program referred to the Common Core State Standards as the “flavor of the month” and questioned whether they would last. His perspective seemed to be that there was always some great new thing, that nothing ever lasts, and that his real question was “When will it stop?”
I hope it never stops. I hope that, when we replace the Common Core, we do it with something better, more effective, born out of the lessons learned from teacher and student experience. And then I hope we replace that with something better, born out of the same process of reflection and investigation. If educators really believe in that ubiquitous feature of mission statements everywhere, the “lifelong learner,” how can we not want to engage in the same learning cycle that our students should be engaging in? They’re learning literature, science, math, and critical thinking — we’re learning how to teach them better.
Learning is a process — at least that’s what we tell students. We ask a question, try an answer, check the results and try again if we don’t like what we got. We reflect on the choices we made and decide whether to make the same ones again. That’s how we learn. Why should schools be different? Why would we ever believe that there is one, perfect, eternally unchanging set of standards that all kids should learn forever and ever?
Schools are made up of people, and people have a nasty habit of changing with time. Our society is evolving alongside an ever-changing global marketplace. Why in heaven’s name would we ever think that schools can serve this constantly evolving population in a constantly evolving system without constantly evolving themselves?
I think the real question here isn’t “when will it stop?” but “how can we keep up?” The process of learning is exhausting, at least if you’re doing it right. Good teachers know they’ve been successful when kids get tired — and good teachers get tired because they’re engaged in powerful learning themselves. As with nearly everything, the answer is community. If we create learning communities that sustain and support us — students, teachers, and leaders alike — can divide the work and double the workers. We can lean in to each other, mentally and emotionally.
But community alone isn’t enough. We need to be able to push back into the system, to make adjustments and changes as we learn more about what kids need. Teachers, students, parents, and leaders must have the power to not only ask questions but also to make decisions based on their own observations and expertise. We need to return real power to those closest to kids — with an eye towards accountability, to be sure, because unequal access and expectations are a very real thing in 21st-century America. I think we all know that communities of people who have lofty aspirations for kids, the tools to get them there, the power to make the right decisions as well as a deep and abiding love for the children they serve is the one flavor that should always be on the menu.