Two Semesters Down and What I’ve Learned

Two semesters into my doctoral studies at Kent: I’ve neglected my blog and my beloved #ohedchat; I’ve pushed aside all my fun YA lit reads; and I’ve redirected my attention from lots of shameless self-promotion (ok, there’s nothing wrong with a little self-promotion!) to a focus on endless sponging of information. I am reading, reading, reading, and thinking, thinking, thinking, and sometimes it’s challenging going into work knowing that so much of what we’re doing in education right now is not only based purely on conjecture and hypotheticals (not “research based” as every educational marketing catalog would have us believe every product is) but it is morally reprehensible for the entire institution of education (VA scores, anyone?). It’s difficult to know that something is wrong and feel like I am just shy of any real credibility to do something about it in a big way. Instead, I focus locally. I focus on my own district and my own job, and I ask why. I push boundaries and think differently; I seek first to understand the decades of baggage from standardized reform movements, and I try to converse my way through undoing a lot of damage that has been done to teachers. I’m trying to learn how to improve teacher confidence in his/her craft, and I’m learning to listen…to hear what people are actually saying after peeling through layer after layer of defenses. It’s more important to me now than ever to move people, to empower them; because the more I learn in my studies, the more I believe in teaching.

This post is strictly to share some of the things I’ve learned.

My Research Interest: I’m still a good 1.5 years away from my dissertation, but I can already tell you the course of my sails: educational policy. I’m taking a roundabout way to get there, though. I’m most interested in empowering teachers to influence educational policy (rather than the current top-down approach). I think (at this point) that teachers feel empowered when they are confident in their abilities as a teacher and when they feel like their values and methods of instruction are firmly grounded in something (research, personal experience, etc). Teachers who have this strong foundation are the very teachers who stand the test of time through all these reforms, and they do this because they can discern between truly good progress and worthless fads. These are also the very teachers who should be leading educational change. My question, then, is what kinds of learning experiences (PD) for teachers help them establish this strong foundation? (We all know sit-and-get doesn’t do it….)

Ha, I even tried to draw a model (flow chart?):

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Standards: I’ve learned that even the most carefully articulated standards-based k-12 curriculum only gives life to one type of learning, and it is very calculated, quantitative, and scientific. I still believe in standards. I believe they give us a foundation, a starting point, something to work with, a structural framework, but I also. Believe there is something to be said about the centuries of schooling that existed prior to standardization.

Research: I never read true educational research until I started my program. I have to admit that I was underwhelmed by it. I recently described research:

Prior to beginning my studies at Kent, I understood “research-based” to be almost a catchphrase; it seems everything is “research-based” in contemporary education. At this point in my studies, I have not found evidence in my readings to counteract this. “Research” seems to occur whenever an individual or group undertakes a study with a transparent and replicable methodology that involves either quantitative or qualitative data of some sort from a sample of any size. By this definition, a research study could be as small-scale as an individual teacher conducting research using student data in her classroom, or as large-scale as an international survey of teachers by a human interest group..What I cannot clearly articulate is why one particular study type (small-scale, large-scale, literature review) holds more credence in policy and practice than the others. Does having a larger sample make a research study more generalizable? Does a researcher need to have acronyms (PhD, EdD) after her name for the study to be credible? More importantly, how does research of any magnitude actually impact the experiences of students?

Once again, how does a teacher begin to know his/her beliefs about good instruction when the research itself is situational?

The Lingo : I’ve learned that you can apply -ism to any word you want and suddenly it is academic vocabulary in education: positivism, antipositivism, postpositivism, structuralism, Poststructuralism, constructivism, deconstructuralism, deweyism, dualism, modernism. I’ve also learned that educational theorists and curricularists like to use a lot of crazy big words for things practitioners (read: teachers) do. Finally, I’ve learned that even if teachers found research to be beneficial for informing their practice, I’m not sure why they would read it…it’s pretty heavy work to make it through all those -isms and obscure terminology.

The Degree: I won’t lie and say I started my program because I want the acronyms…I started the program because I needed to do my job more effectively. I needed to keep learning, and I had questions to answer, so moving toward the phd was the next logical step. I also wanted to make change and having those acronyms provides a little bit of credibility to have people recognize that I might know what I’m talking about. I’m finding, though, this amazing distance between those who do the research and create the theories and those who teach in classrooms. It feels like a great divide, which is nice for people like me who want to have one foot on each side of the door, but it also means that for awhile, I have to continue to neglect things like my blog and my network. There is so much to learn right now, that it can’t possibly live in both spaces; so a temporary hiatus is necessary. That being said, I do not at all agree that research-based conferences with organizations I had never heard of as a teacher or prior to my program should have more credence than “practitioner-based” ones.

Questions: I recently said I now know enough to feel like I know nothing about education. This is probably the most difficult thing for me to grapple with because I feel like I don’t know what to say anymore. My own educational belief and value system is on it’s head and I’m not sure yet on the shoulders of which giants I would ground myself. I don’t know enough to say THIS is why I think this way, and THIS is why I’m doing what I’m doing. It’s the weirdest feeling to know that what you once accepted as unchallengeable truths (ex. Teacher morale is impacted by edu-policy) is now connected to a string of why’s with no answers.

Leadership: I am quickly learning that all that “stuff” I’m doing in my classes means nothing if I simply replicate the very model of leadership I abhor. I cannot come back to my district with a plan and a path and just expect people to come along with me just because. In fact, I am working on a plan to take myself farther back from the movement of secondary education in the district. K-12 curriculum people, and specifically 6-12 curriculum people, are in this interesting situation where they have to choose their level of knowledge and input across many different contents that are changing in many different ways instructionally. My goal is not to steer the ship of curriculum anymore, but to instead hand the content-specific portion of that over to teacher. What I would like to do is send content teachers to their respective conferences and then work with them to guide the work of the district. I cannot be an expert in all contents, but I can bring my expertise (hardly) in curriculum & instruction to a table with experts from a specific subject area to take a more grassroots approach in the district. My learning can never be the be-all, end-all. (I have to say, this is a complete 180 for someone who began this position with a specific bullet-point list of exactly what I would accomplish with each subject area…..ugh, I’m embarrassed.)

Oh, and one more thing I’m learning about leadership….credit and validation are not necessary. I think I’ve learned that a true leader hands off acceptance of the trophies more often than s/he accepts them her/himself. I feel more proud of my contributions to an accomplishment when I watch others get recognition than I ever feel being recognized myself. (I’m not sure that really fits with doc studies, though, because it seems to be very much about recognition, 🙂 )

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9 thoughts on “Two Semesters Down and What I’ve Learned

  1. Hi Christina,

    Very interesting reflection. It sounds like your thinking is more in line with how things were when I was in school.

    Are you coming to OETC (E-Tech)? I’m going on Monday and Tuesday.

    Keep warm, Jan

    Janet Kelly Library Media Specialist Northridge High and Middle School 6066 Johnstown-Utica Rd. Johnstown, OH 43031 740-967-6651 JLKelly@laca.org ________________________________________

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  2. Good to hear from you. I’ve been wondering where your voice had gone…and now I see! It is reverberating in your head. Glad you shared your observations….and validated many of my own! In the end, the practitioners are the educational movers no matter how loud or revered are the positions of researchers. If we cannot actualize the work of research in the classroom OR get researchers to bring value to what teachers do, we will not effect the change our new standards demand.

    Happy New Year!
    Dea.

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    • Thank you, and happy new year to you as well 🙂 it’s interesting, though, that what the research says (generalizable or not) AND what the practitioners say about certain things (for example, the amount of standardized assessments) is running counter to what policy makers argue. Those in the know…and yet little impact.

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  3. Christina,

    I really enjoyed this post and I wanted to let you know. :). A few points have made me ponder quite a bit; thank you! Best of luck on you journey in becoming Dr. Hank 😉

    Chad

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  4. Christina- Have not visited you blog in a while, but really glad I did so today. Nice to hear what you are learning and thinking about lately. I miss having conversations with someone that don’t revolve around the latest news from ODE or the latest mandates and PD that districts have me working on…. I need to think about the big picture more often even while drowning in a sea of details.

    I often wonder, what are we really doing in education today? – is it working? -is it worth it? Even though we may never know the answers, I think we need to keep asking the questions…it’s the only real education. Thank you for reminding us to keep questioning and keep learning even if it turns what we think we know on end.

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    • It took me forever to come back and respond to this post. Every time I hear of people questioning what we’re doing, I feel like there is still hope in the system. It’s when people just subscribe to it blindly that I get concerned.

      As far as what are we really doing in education today, I am right there with you. Are we moving from fad to fad to fad without couching anything in what we know is good for kids? Are we continuing to demoralize the teaching profession (slowly and steadily over time) to the point that teachers become just unskilled or semi-skilled workers? I want so badly to be an element of the system that says, “Ok, here is our context (standardized accountability), but what are WE and what do WE DO?” A system that sets standards and testing at the bottom of its list of priorities in making curriculum and not the be-all, end-all of an entire district. Education cannot be all about numbers and discrete learning targets; it can’t be obsessive and excessive testing and top-down “whips and carrots” mentality. Education and learning are so much more than the system we’re in–we have to keep seeing BEYOND the contexts, always reaching for what is best for kids.

      It’s so good to hear from you 🙂

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