Focus: Treatment for Education’s ADD

Reflections on treating Educational ADD

Here are four suggestions for dealing with the Attention Deficit Disorder that may keep your school from articulating its vision, its real purpose for existing.

1) Stop believing in silver bullets – Like any complex human endeavor, especially one that’s been practiced in a fairly specific way for decades, there is no single, easy, fix.  Because technology is so amazing, it’s understandable that we imagine some new gadget/software/environment/etc. could come along to instantly transform our schools into what we want them to be. But here’s a reality check: it’s just not going to happen. Let’s stop waiting for miracles and get to work creating one.

2) Don’t Jump to Solutions – All these great ideas that people come up with tend to be strategies designed to solve particular problems. Using them without considering the big picture is like taking someone else’s prescription because it works for them.  Or think about it in the military sense of “winning the battle, but losing the war.”  Schools are far too full of strategies that end up running at counter-purposes to each other. We initiate iPad programs and ban phones from classrooms.  We engage students in making Public Service Announcement videos, but block Tumblr. We deploy Khan Academy but don’t challenge students to apply mathematical understanding in authentic tasks.  So don’t even worry about, let alone debate or implement, new strategies until you’ve really dealt with #2 below.

3) Focus on your Vision – The incessant flow of “new ideas” assures distraction, perfectly illustrating the oft-quoted “Chinese Curse:” May you live in interesting times. Caught in the blur of the new, Education puts no attention on the significant.  What is the purpose of your school?  A purpose that every teacher, student, parent and community member knows, lives and breathes.  This is not a workshop brainstorm and a tagline on school stationery, but a systemic exploration and validation of your institution’s DNA. One fantastic attribute of the 21st Century is that we don’t all have to be the same.  Slavish uniformity is out and flourishing excellence is in.  So what will be your school’s claim to excellence?  Developing a real vision for your school will not be the product of an after school PD session (although it might start there), but rather a long-term effort that includes input from present and past students, parents and a wide-ranging exploration of what challenges and opportunities await our students throughout their lives.

4) Build a Curriculum that Realizes your Vision – Lucky for us, we have a means to achieve our vision. And, in the buzzing of new ideas and Ed Tech ADD distractions, it probably sounds like the oldest, most boring solution: our curriculum. It’s something that touches every student and teacher in every grade level and course.  Unfortunately, I’ve found that an impoverished definition of curriculum often prevents this powerful tool from realizing its potential.  Start with the vision: what amazing things do we want our students to achieve?  what does successful achievement look like?  Let’s make authentic performance of these achievements the heart of our curriculum.  To encourage success, let’s be specific about success criteria and provide samples of such achievement by previous students.  This is the kind of assessment that guides students and empowers their ownership for learning.  None of this will happen over night and none of it is easy.  But nothing in teaching is easy so why not focus on what will make a real difference?

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