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What makes you special?

5 min read


I just watched a webinar that Lucy Calkins did where she addresses 200 New York City principals and speaks out strongly about some of the things that are happening in both  the city and the state. It reminded me of a not-too-distant blog post I wrote entitled Adopt, Adapt, Adept, where I challenge teachers to look at their current practice before adopting canned/newly created curricula or whether they could adapt that curricula and merge with their current practice, collegial discussions or knowledge of their population of students.

I had been thinking along the same lines as Calkins for awhile now and having my thoughts validated and confirmed was, in a word, nice. While what she shared was New York-centric, I think the larger messages are multi-state applicable:

  • The common core doesn’t prescribe curricula

  • The common core doesn’t dictate methodology

  • The common core doesn’t say to throw away all you know to be true and re-imagine your entire curriculum

Back to the main question: What makes you special?

What were you trained to do? Were you trained to read a script to students that was written by someone with no knowledge of your population or the collegial ways you interact at your school? Were you trained to accept traditional modes of instruction as an always applicable teaching methodology that would be in place for years to come? Were you trained to dismiss thinking about instruction as a means to a specifically designed end where students show (and share) what they know?

Or, were you trained to be a professional educator who values evolution of practice meeting the needs of the times? Were you trained to teach FOR success rather than TO the tests? Were you trained to do what’s best for kids rather than what is easy for the adults?

Without sounding condescending, I want to share with you a snippet of a conversation I had with a teacher around appropriate instructional strategies in her content area. She was explaining the worksheets that she uses, the texts, the assessments and activities that make up each unit. I had a conversation with her about the amount of work that kids were “doing” versus what they were “learning.” Learning was not the focus for her. She was not understanding what I was saying and so I clarified.

I said to her, “my father-in-law left school at 16, worked in a factory for more than 40 years, and almost everything you’ve described in your practice he could do without any teacher training.” While that seems snarky, I know, it helped to situate the perspective and transform our conversation. Also, this is a teacher that I had an excellent rapport with and had worked with many times. I would probably not say this, in general, to teachers that I was coaching.

The next part of our conversation dove into what makes her special; what makes her capable. We discussed instructional pacing, strategies, content, skills, new assessments. We had conversations (over the course of weeks) about resource dependency versus skills focused. We talked about working through this together and with our colleagues and just keeping the conversation going.

I said to her what I’m saying to all of you reading this right now: What makes you special is your ability to innovate. What makes you special is your ability to adapt, collaborate, communicate, design and revolutionize the profession. You were trained to do what needs to be done and that is to solve new problems that are laid before us all in terms of new standards, new technologies and new forms of education.

There is no magic common core solution. There is no prescription for the perfect way to implement these standards. There is, however, your ability as an educational professional to take all of what is being offered to you and make sound instructional decisions from it. You are a filter, not a conformist. You are a transformer, not an obedient missionary.

Calkins reminds the audience in the video that one can’t just “go with the flow.” Her metaphor was about white-water rafting. If you go with the flow, you’re committing to being torn apart or washed away or pushed into a pool of inaction. Whether you are taking this journey slower or faster represents control over the element, rather than letting the element control you.

We all have the power to do this. This is what makes teachers special.

This is what makes YOU special.

Mike Fisher (@fisher1000) has more than a decade of classroom and professional-development experience. He is a full-time educational consultant and instructional coach and works primarily with school districts to integrate the Common Core State Standards, make data-informed instructional decisions, sustain their curriculum mapping initiatives and integrate instructional technology. Learn more at The Digigogy Collaborative or on his blog.