First, an important analogy…
I’ve been potty training my daughter for what feels like months. In February, when she started showing interest, I’d try a tactic, it would work briefly, it would stop working, and then I’d get lazy and give up. We’d end up back at step 1. A few weeks later, a new tactic–I’d stick to it, it would work briefly, it would stop working, and then I’d give up. Again, square 1. Several cycles of this later….on our most recent and longest attempt, I think we’ve finally got it.
What did I do differently this time? I had everyone on board–family, daycare–we tried a tactic, it would work, it would stop working, and we would immediately regroup and try something different. Everyone stayed the course with the same end goal–get the kid potty trained!–and we revised our plan as we went along. Hundreds of diapers and many trips running through stores to get to bathrooms later, and that dedication is paying off. Thank. Goodness.
Second, my connection to education…
I had the potty training in mind because I just finished reading several articles about how the CCSS will fail (nothing new, same old complaints), and I started thinking about how education is so much like my many initial experiences with potty training–we try it, it works, it stops working, we leave it behind and go back to step 1. This cyclical approach to failure is no more effective in teaching and learning than it is in any other area (dieting, anyone?).
The missing piece in these cycles is a plan for follow-through. Think, for example, of any initiative your school/district has undertaken. Initiatives start with good intent–typically, raising student achievement. So, let’s say your school has undertaken a “No-Zeroes!” grading policy with the hope of increasing student accountability and improving the quality of the kinds of homework teachers assign. You and your grade-level (building-level, district-level) team spend some time planning to implement, you change your syllabi for the beginning of the school year, you enforce the policy with fidelity and commitment right from Day 1, and things seem to go well for a couple of weeks. Then, the number of missing and incomplete assignments start to pile up, and every time you open your online grade book, you feel yourself desperately wanting to pack zeroes into those blank spaces. Suddenly, the No-Zero policy that you have spent so much time and dedication adhering to becomes a flop; within only a few weeks, everyone resorts to life pre-“No-Zero.” It’s easier, it’s more comfortable, and it eases our frustration from trying so hard and committing so much to implementation.
Instead of letting our attempts flop, it’s important to have a plan for following through with whatever policy, initiative, or change is taking place. We have to revisit our implementation strategy, assess what’s working and what’s not, realign to our original vision (the reason for the plan in the first place), and restructure or revise to continue momentum. It’s almost ironic that we are so caught up on formatively assessing in our classrooms as a way to guide instruction, but applying those same ideas (end in mind, assess progress, redirect course) to other areas of life is so challenging for us to wrap our heads around. Following-through with a plan in this way is essential to moving things forward. Not following-through or having a plan for revision is often an automatic death sentence for any initiative.
The same is true with implementing the CCSS. There is so much work happening right now in implementing them with fidelity and dedication that I am afraid at the first sign things aren’t working, we will drop them all together. I also think the nay-sayers are waiting for that moment when the CCSS seem to stop working so they can criticize all the work that has gone into the standards since the beginning. Clearly, if the standards aren’t perfect in their initial form and if American students don’t immediately improve drastically in all measures, then the CCSS weren’t worth the webspace they occupied, right?
No…any plan worth implementing is a plan worth revising and following-through. To implement with fidelity, in my opinion, means to be open to revision when things go awry.