There are two phrases that drive me crazy in education more than any other “We make our decisions based on what is best for kids” and “Is that best practice?” Both phrases tend to come from someone trying to steer a teacher towards what they think is best instead of trusting that that teacher knows their students and what they need.
Sometimes I think we get stuck in this mindset that if what we are doing and we think is working is questioned we try to find evidence and facts to say “yup it is best practice” or “All my decisions are based on what is best for students” or “How do you know what is best for students?” So I get to my question “What is our compass for the decisions we make in our class?” I was reflecting on this lately as I do a little summer Twitter and Facebook PD chatting with teachers all over North America. What is my compass? Do I make my decisions based on reading, or expert opinion or peer opinion or student reactions? Maybe a combination of everything?
First, Do I make my decisions based on reading? I am a self described life long learner and reading educational resources has most definitely informed my practice but am I so rigid in my thinking that I can’t take advice from other sources than my wonderful books? Do I take everything I read in books and say “I don’t care what my students feel about this or what my admin say, this is what I am doing?” I hope not.
I have had the great pleasure of attending PD with many experts in their field. Some writing, some math, many more on literacy instruction and reading primarily. Each has influenced my teaching, my compass but like all things if I am so rigid that I can only accept what they say and not take in the advice of my peers or my students wishes again I think we get lost in discovering what really is best for students.
Peers are a great resource. They hopefully have done some reading of their own, they hopefully have been effective in their classrooms and can add to the conversations you are having around the premise of what is best for students. Where I think it gets tricky is what the measure is for “best practice” or what is “best” for kids. Evidence is helpful in these conversations and where do we get these pieces of evidence?
The main guide to my classroom instructional practice, my students. Engagement first and results a close second. What I do in my classroom and what I require of my students is ultimately influenced greatest by how much they enjoy being in school. My practices that I learn from books, experts and peers mean nothing if my students are bored, unengaged and resistant. But engagement and fun in school must also be followed by results, academic evidence of success because well, that is our job.
Without evidence the lines “best practice” and “We are doing what is best for kids” are just lines. Best practice itself is flawed, it should be “best practice for now” an idea I picked up from a great book Disrupting Thinking by a great pair of authors Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. They have informed much of my teaching and the best part is the ideas they have shared are both engaging and generate results. Best practice for now shows that our practices just like us should grow and change over time. Innovation is only hampered by complacency. Always strive for better in teaching and engagement should follow.
As teachers we need to be flexible, we need to allow teachings from experts, peers and the lessons we learn from our students to be our compass, to guide our practice. Otherwise we might get lost in all the extra noise.