Am I a geek or a nerd?

What Administrators Don’t Know
January 13, 2011, 11:39 am
Filed under: curriculum, professional development | Tags:

I’ve spent the last two days meeting with different groups of elementary, middle school and high school principals about what to look for in social studies teaching and how to help their teachers based on our observations of them.

I started these meetings the same way I’ve started lots of my teacher meetings; with a blank k-12 sequence for social studies. The participants are asked to jot down the content or course title for each grade of social studies. I didn’t always do this. AtotheB and I first tried this at a NCSS workshop, figuring that since it was a national conference it was a quick way to see similarities and differences in social studies among the participating schools/states. Turns out almost no one in that NCSS workshop could tell us what is taught in all 12 grades of social studies, even in states that require it through graduation. I started to wonder if our teachers could do it. They couldn’t either.

Finding this out was eye-opening. We stress ideas of progressions of learning and continuous growth of our students and our teachers (and these were teachers who were actively trying to improve–they paid to attend NCSS and our local workshops!!) don’t know where their students are coming from or where they are heading to! Most could name the course immediately preceding and immediately following the one they teach. Or if a teacher had been assigned to a variety of grade levels through their career we found a good sense of progressions. Or if you had kids in particular grades you likely know what they are learning. In general, though, teachers seemed to know only their own course and grade level.

So I pulled this blank document out and fully expected the building principals to know what we are required to teach at each grade level they supervise. Really, I thought this would just be the lead in to the news that while admin knows this, teachers don’t. Imagine my surprise when principals couldnt’ do this either. Most could summarize the grades in their building (some couldnt’ even do that) but not one could complete the prior or subsequent grades.

So what did I do? I pulled up the stuff we use with teachers, showing progressions of learning from grades k-8. I had them compare the Foundational Expectations listed in our high school documents (the stuff that’s supposed to be review of middle school learning) to what the state actually requires in middle school (hint: it doesn’t match up very well). We discussed the importance of having teacher meet as multi-grade level teams to examine instruction and assessment data. They examined the implications of teachers writing curriculum without the benefit of knowing what students had learned in the past 5 years or what they would be expected to learn in the next 5.

What will they do with this information? I have no idea. I expected them to know how important it is to understand the sequence of content/skills but was stunned to see that while they recognize its importance they didn’t actually do anything to make it happen. I wish I was continuing to consult in this county, I wish that I hadn’t learned this about the admin while nearing the end of my contract, I wish that I could attack this problem in my remaining time here. Is 48 hours enough?


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