As I consider where we must put our efforts this year in educating students, I recognize that there are important areas in which our efforts must be to reflectively analyze our approach to strike a balance; such a balance requires ongoing investigation of both quantitative and qualitative data, some of which is not easily obtained. These areas, in particular, though I would like to see as areas in which great clarity can be attained, are somewhat perplexing and require consideration of multiple perspectives that take into account far more than a single data set can provide.
- Technology: Proficient and meaningful use of new technologies requires access to such technologies, both physically and in terms of skill development, and the use of technology should lead to significant and transferable learning experiences. Nonetheless, other skill development is necessary, and technology is not infallible in its uses and technology can both positively empower and unfortunately negatively enable certain behaviors related to education and learning. Some assistive technologies, when used with students who do not need them, can actually hinder students from achieving at a higher potential. For example, a student who can read fluently and quickly who uses a “read-aloud” feature available in a technology-rich environment may be slowing down his or her reading and preventing the child’s potential development of more sophisticated analytical reading comprehension strategies. Technology must be used as a capacity builder and experience enhancer rather than as a convenient tool or resource for simply accomplishing the same learning tasks and producing the same educational events with a different means of delivery. Many new technological advances in augmented reality, virtual reality, wearable technologies, and some that have not even been yet developed will impact education, and it is very important that our students are immersed in some use of these technologies only insofar as they enrich their educational experience and lead to their meaningful and relevant exploration of other venues and educational experiences. Students will most benefit from their own personal investment of time and effort in development, innovation, and active presentation of discoveries related thereto and should be supported in environments that allow for this.
- Family “Enrichment”: The family is both the greatest potential support for a student and the greatest possible determiner of the child’s sense of direction and ambition. Our role as educators is to empower a family and the constituent students therein; our role should not, however, be to undermine family values that may differ from our own if such values are not in some way harmful or detrimental to the children. We have to be sensitive to cultural differences that exist from one family to the next and be aware that differences in preference do not dictate a need for serious intervention on the part of educators in the affairs of the family. We can influence and educate the entire family insofar as we consider the well-being and best interest of all of the family’s members, but we should not impose our own sense of ambition or culturally defined desires and measure of success upon others. The balance can be struck when we provide multiple experiences that reveal what we see as valuable in our cultural framework, but we must be careful not to tout all of our practices as superior such that we inadvertently alienate the families whom we serve. If we are to reach our children and their families, we must be careful not to denigrate but should instead appreciate what their families have to offer, especially as each provides an identity for its children.
- Quantitative Data Analysis: Quantitative data are driven by so many different programs and variables in our present data-driven world that they can certainly present a piece of the puzzle which is the whole child, but they can by no means represent the entirety of a child’s academic or socio-emotional disposition in isolation without consideration of the multiple variables that impact them. Should poor test performance alone indicate to us that a child has a low or high academic aptitude? Absolutely not! However, should poor test performance (on more than one occasion) indicate to us that the child struggles with the assessment? Yes. Our daunting but imperative charge is not simply to use the data with a simple “if, then” approach but to decipher the data and to determine what contributed to the data. Too many of the contributing data are often only available to us through speculation about home conditions or demeanor during testing, which can be skewed and perhaps misleading. What, then, do we do with assessment data? Begin to assemble a puzzle with flexibility in knowing that the pieces (like standardized assessment data) can change and that the picture we want to assemble is that of the child’s greatest potential, not necessarily the picture of perfection. Nonetheless, assessment data should not be dismissed and should help us to better identify where a child has some needs, especially in the context of assessment.
- Recognition and Celebration: It is so important that we recognize and celebrate the achievements of our school families; however, if we do so too often for everything, we find ourselves in a place where such recognition is not distinctive and becomes disingenuous. The parody in which “everyone gets a trophy” has some merit in depicting the importance of sincerity and expectation in recognition of accomplishments and how too much praise can be trite and forgettable. When something truly spectacular happens, it should be treated as such, given its respective impact upon the person who accomplished it and others. Too little recognition of successes can lead to a stagnant and unappreciative school culture in which few strive to achieve because of the absence of an impetus for doing so. A school in which rewards are given even to those who do not display effort is one that presents a false sense of accomplishment. We can promote growth mindset, but should do so only through an authentic lens, not through a sympathetic view that causes our praise and recognition to be stripped of significance.
- Transparency: Transparency is essential to a system that acts with integrity, but too much transparency can sometimes lead to misgivings about decision-making and overwhelmed recipients of too much information. It is important to be transparent about the actual status of a situation or the motives behind a decision insofar as such transparency will help to keep people informed, safe, and not blindsided by something that concerns the well-being of the children and their families. Certainly, the premise underlying FERPA and HIPPA laws recognizes the need for children’s and families’ respective privacy and though both impose some difficulty for transparency in some situations, they more often protect people from too much information being shared with unrelated parties. Being candid and sincere is critical to building morale, especially with those identified in leadership roles within a school; humility and receptivity to multiple perspectives are key to a successful school if they are used to better inform decisions on the school’s behalf. Without some level of transparency, neither of these is possible. The best basis for transparency is a need to be honest and forthcoming about the issues that impact those with whom information and views are shared in a way that serves to maintain the well-being and success of each child and school stakeholder. May some question who is to determine what is in the best interest of these parties? Of course, but we must act with integrity in making these decisions and provide transparent responses in ways that serve and support the mission and values of our schools.
Too often, I am afraid that we inadvertently oversimplify some of these issues by committing to programs or initiatives without fully considering whether our approach is appropriate to the context for which it is intended. As one who likes to commit fervently, wholeheartedly, and zealously when I am convinced that a plan of action is the best, I must be careful to remember that extreme approaches, though perhaps exciting, are not always prudent and that caution must be exercised so that all involved parties are treated with a purpose that extends beyond my own frame of reference, ultimately to benefit our students and larger school family.