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Lately, I’ve been part of a wonderful process in our school district called Strategic Planning. We have a group of teachers, administrators, and board members working together with the South Central Service Cooperative to really plan ahead and set some realistic, concrete goals for NRHEG.

When I started teaching, I was told by veteran staff that every time a new initiative was introduced, you could count on hearing about it for two-three years before something new took its place. They were absolutely right.

Since I began, we’ve seen the Profiles of Learning, the Basic Standards Tests, Advisor/Advisee groups, Curriculum Mapping, Response to Intervention, No Child Left Behind, NWEA testing, MCA testing, Professional Learning Communities, Problem Based Learning, Sustained Silent Reading, Common Core Standards, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and many others I’m sure I’ve forgotten. Just keeping track of what we’re supposed to be focused on is an initiative unto itself.

Every one of those ideas above has had its merits. Many of them have gone the way of the dinosaur. Others most likely will. It’s just the nature of the beast; someone comes up with a brilliant “new” idea and markets it, when in reality it’s an old concept wrapped in new paper.

We have to continually reinvent ourselves in education and try new ideas. I’m loving SSR and PBIS, but we always need to keep moving ahead and finding ways to keep those good ideas fresh and relevant to the students.

My long-time readers know how I feel about standardized testing; we can chuck it all as far as I’m concerned. The target keeps moving on the tests, making it difficult to know just where the students should be. Calls to the Department of Education are as frustrating as talking to a politician on the campaign trail: no real answers and a lot of avoidance of anything remotely going against the grain.

During one of our Strategic Planning sessions in Mankato, our facilitator gave great rationale for why the standardized tests currently being pushed on us by the powers-that-be started and why they continue to make life difficult for teachers and students. The government is trying to get more and more involved in education by forming tests made to look schools look bad.

Any time you see a study that shows the United States is behind all these other countries in education, remember one important fact: the USA educates every child in the same system. Many other countries put students on a tracking system early, and their futures are determined by the time they are teenagers. In the United States, all students are supposed to be able to read and do math at the same level.

This is ludicrous. Every child is not the same. Brain studies show that our cognitive functions are often geared toward math or toward reading and not always both. People all have different strengths; they all have different needs. Should I be able to read and comprehend any story in the newspaper? You bet. Should I be able to do some basic math to balance my checkbook and keep a budget? Absolutely.

Reading and math both offer more than that, though. Those skills help develop brain connections and make us better at so many things, problem solving being first and foremost. Still, is every child going to reach a level of math and reading as it is currently placed? Not in America. Children have so many different needs that the basics are what are necessary for the vast majority. I’ll be honest; I don’t know how well I’d do on the high school math test currently put forth in Minnesota. Does that mean I should turn in my teaching license?

I have a natural suspicion of every new idea that is presented to us. We’ve been burned so many times by “This is the real deal! This will be around for the rest of your career!” that it’s hard to think anything is the ultimate solution. As one senior staff member told me my first year, “Figure out what’s important and keep teaching it. You’ll find a way to cram it into whatever they throw at you.” Wise words, indeed.

Hopefully, our Strategic Planning committee can sort through the morass that we face in our school and decide what is truly important and how to get there. The ultimate goal is that rather than, “This, too, shall pass,” we can say, “This, too, shall last.” Meanwhile, it’s once again testing season and I could possibly be more excited, but don’t hold your breath.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is bloviate, which means to speak pompously, as in, “The speaker bloviated about the latest fad in education.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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