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Administration, Leadership, Professional Development, Teaching

For Teachers: A Little Latitude…Please


flickr photo by theakshay

Let teachers create something that fit’s there personality…don’t force them to be something they are not. ~  Dr. Robert Marzano

Lately, a great deal of discussion has been dedicated to the skills that we want our students to develop as they move through the 21st Century.  It seems, as it should be, that in spite of the challenges of standardized testing, the educational community has embraced a broader idea of the skill set required to educate the “whole” student.  I have weighed in on this with a post of my own, Five Skills for 21st Century Learners, and have been asking readers to share their ideas on through a Google Spreadsheet.  Overwhelmingly, respondents have focused on terms such as collaboration, creativity, empathy, innovation, adaptability, resourcefulness and communication.

As we continue to advocate for a shift in thinking with regard to how we prepare students for a shrinking world (with complex problems), I believe it is also time for us to change our thinking related to how we train teachers, provide professional development and, ultimately, the degree of autonomy we allow them to have in their classrooms. If the skills we profess to be beneficial for learners are truly meaningful and desirable for 21st century students, then shouldn’t our teachers be modeling these skills, and thus be given the latitude in their classrooms to do so?  I am not arguing that this isn’t being done, but I don’t think it receives the attention it deserves.  State and national standards, benchmark assessments, state standardized testing, schedule restrictions, administrative expectations (as well as many other issues) place constraints on the innovation and creativity of our teachers.

As you are reading this, over 9,000 educators have descended upon the city of San Francisco for the annual Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) conference–seeking to gain knowledge, learn from colleagues, network and gather new ideas that will benefit their students.  It is an awe-inspiring site to see so many teachers, committed to their chosen career, taking the time to grow as educators.  As professionals, they deserve enough autonomy to practice their trade in a manner that they feel will meet the needs of their students.  I am not advocating for a free-for-all.  It is obviously healthy for schools as institutions to have direction, and therefore individuals may have to sacrifice for the greater good.  Neither am I suggesting the elimination of accountability. Instead, I am emphasizing that we be mindful of the restrictions we place on teacher creativity giving them adequate opportunities to make decisions, as professionals, about how they teach.

Today I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Robert Marzano speak at a pre-conference session called: Supervising the Art and Science of Teaching.  During his presentation, Dr. Marzano referenced research related to what truly makes people happy when it comes to their work.  The following three points were emphasized:

  • Choose something complex and become very good at it.
  • Affect people in a positive way
  • Have a lot of autonomy – express yourself creatively

Based upon the first two statements, we should have a lot of happy people in the education profession.  As Dr. Marzano pointed out, it is the third statement that is troubling.

We recognize innovation and creativity as essential skills for students growing up in the 21st century.   Let’s be sure our teachers have the opportunities they deserve to practice the full spectrum of their profession.  I am more than optimistic that they will not disappoint.

About azjd

Junior high principal by day, aspiring difference maker, and Jedi in my own mind. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.


4 thoughts on “For Teachers: A Little Latitude…Please

  1. I think that like our students, there are teachers all across the spectrum. I look at the three points emphasized by Dr. Marzano and can’t help but think of a number of teachers that I know or have met that exude all three or don’t seem to display any of those attributes–and then there are those that may seem like one or two. I feel for the most part that the vast majority (if not all) of teachers want to affect people in a positive way. Unfortunately though, I work with teachers on instructional strategies, and I find that many DON’T want to choose something complex or more complex and be good at it, let alone be creative in what they do. That would mean they couldn’t depend on a teacher’s manual or pre-made worksheets and set reading goals.

    So how do we get there then. I agree with what you have said, because I feel that way about myself and many other teachers that I know and work with. But what do we do about the others, those that don’t want to be challenged, those content with their mechanical ways. I know that their intentions are good, but how do we get them to move forward. How is it that they too can become divergent thinkers, innovators of learning, and powerful models?

    Then again, I guess if we had those answers, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, nor would our system be in the mess that its in. I appreciate the post. It’s where we need to be. Now, how do we get there?

    Posted by Jeremy M. | March 25, 2011, 11:19 pm
    • There are definitely assumptions in this argument – such as the notion that teachers will choose to utilize the “latitude” to be innovative and creative. You are right…that is a big assumption and there will definitely be teachers that would not take advantage (unfortunate).

      Really liked a recent post by Jeff Utecht, Flipping the Classroom – http://www.thethinkingstick.com In addition to allowing teachers to use their creativity, one of my concerns is that we keep the teaching profession attractive to newcomers.

      Posted by azjd | March 26, 2011, 7:58 am
  2. I can certainly endorse those ideas. It does sound a lot like Daniel Pink’s big 3: mastery, purpose, and autonomy. Hope you enjoy the conference. I’ll be there Sat.-Mon., and blogging about it as well.

    Posted by David B. Cohen | March 26, 2011, 12:01 am
  3. Excellent post! I like Marzano’s ideas, and as a teacher for 23 years, I agree about the lack of autonomy and creative expression allowed for both teachers and students. I try to do innovative activities all the time–if I’m being challenged myself, I know the students are–and sometimes we “get away with it” and sometimes we don’t. It’s a shame that the best learning goes on when we’re getting away with something. Thanks!

    Posted by theteachingwhore | March 26, 2011, 5:53 am

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Jeff Delp

Junior high principal by day, sports enthusiast, technology fanatic and jedi in my own mind. Striving to be a difference maker!
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