Getting Our Conference On
It's strange to do these presentations, to tell the story of moving from an awful school to a good (read: average) school because you get the book report feeling. You try to explain what happened without fetishising the negative aspects of the school pre-change, the disorganization, the disunity, the violence, etc., and you try to explain how change occured without being too heavy-handed or self-congratulatory. You temper your sense of how great you think all this is with the acknowledgement that still less than half your students finish eighth grade proficient, and with the kind of baseline embarrasment that things were so bad in the first place, here and elsewhere, that mediocrity looks so damn good in comparison.
And it's all in the past. The work the educators did, the success the students demonstrated, the renewed commitment from families, everything that came together such that you get invited to do these conferences -- it's all in the past. We don't think about these things so much anymore, or at least we shouldn't, and it feels strange to retell and refocus on so-recent history. We want to talk about the future, we want to talk about the further myth defying that comes when you need to believe that a school rooted in poverty and second language acquisition can truly excel, not just avoid the signals of badness. We want to talk about encapsulating teacher knowledge and making explicit the programs teachers have developed to reach diverse learning groups. Instead, we talk about past performance, and try to communicate the principles so derived.
- If your student needs are larger (ELL, mutli-year performance gaps) you need to extend the school day to meet these needs
- Differentiation is wonderful, but students must be grouped to reduce the range of differentiation to a mangeable and realistic level
- Improving instruction is less about downloading a set of strategies or investing in a single program, and is instead focused on developing the understanding of the process of teaching, learning, and assessment
Having the opportunity to present this (counter)narrative at conferences is good fun, and probably important on some level, but it leaves me feeling a little cold as I prepare to go to work on Monday, because for all the change and improvements, we are still, substantially, in the same place.