With the introduction of the Common Core Standards (CCS) and Teacher Evaluation System (APPR) there has recently been a lot of talk about the resources and materials our teachers are using in their classrooms. Many educators and instructional leaders are focused on making sure that the classrooms are filled with various programs, materials, etc. that are aligned to the rigors of the CCS (I hesitate to use the word rigor at this point). Furthermore, when looking at APPR and its potential ramifications, once again the conversation turns to what materials and programs are being used in the classroom to ensure that our children are prepared for the various assessments - both the local and state assessments.
Although I think everyone agrees that we want to make sure our children are learning and growing, I am concerned about the recent focus on the specific programs and materials being used. Don't get me wrong, I want to make sure that our classrooms are filled with rich resources and materials too because they are critical components to the learning experiences of our children but I don't think they are the key to learning. I think the key to learning lies in the hands of our great teachers - it is teachers, not programs, that have the greatest impact on our children and their learning! In my years as an instructional leader, I have seen many programs be piloted and eventually implemented and the common theme that runs through every implementation is that great teachers make the programs successful in the classroom; programs do not make teachers great nor do they make children learn. Often the conversation revolves around implementing a program on a specific grade level or throughout an entire school to ensure consistency in the learning experiences of our children but any good educator knows that its not the program that is going to bring consistency to the learning, it is the teachers! A great teacher knows how to bring the dullest or most scripted or structured program to life in their classrooms so that their children are highly engaged and learning. On the other hand, a struggling teacher will usually be able to implement the program only at a basic level and the children's learning and levels of engagement will be impacted as a result of this basic implementation. Again, its not about the program - its about the teacher and their individual skill set that will have the greatest impact on our children.
Regardless of the program, resource or materials being used in the classrooms, I suggest that our focal points needs to shift from this "stuff" to the professional development of our teachers! Whether a school or district is planning on implementing a basal reading series or adopting a balanced literacy approach to reading instruction, the focus should be on training teachers in sound pedagogical practice - not only on how to use the programs or materials! For example, we recently shifted to a balanced literacy approach and supplied every classroom with various reading and writing resources and programs to support this instructional approach. When it came time to train teachers, although we did spend time on exposing them to the materials, the thrust of our time was focused on sound instructional approaches that would impact all of our children on some level and would help all our teachers enhance their skill set. Our instructional focus happened to be the technique of the gradual release of responsibility of learning from teacher to student (model - guide - do independently or show me - help me - let me do it) because we felt that was a sound instructional model that could be used across all curriculum areas and would help our teachers have the greatest impact on our children and their learning.
In the end, I am not advocating for a specific instructional approach or program; instead, I am advocating for the professional development of our teachers because the bottom line is that our skilled teachers, not the programs they are using, will have the greatest impact on our children and their learning!