iPads for every student, high stake teacher evaluations, project-based learning, allowing students to be creative, literacy-based instruction, and the list goes on and on. One of the major challenges that continues to face educators is determining the best practices for educating students. With so many resources, fads, and possibilities – remaining focused to the mission and goal is of primary concern.
What’s The Goal?
Some of the basic, fundamental goals of education include teaching students to read, to write, to think, to learn how to problem-solve, and to communicate effectively. We cannot get away from the fact that in order to accomplish these fundamental goals, that there is a level of hard work, discipline, and dedication that goes hand-in-hand with this process. We live in a society where stimulation, fun, and entertainment seemed to have taken the place of work, attendance, discipline, and accomplishment.
As a staff, we have been challenged to re-focus our attention to several key components of our educational program. Mike Schmoker’s book, Focus, has been a helpful resource in directing some of our efforts to be effective in preparing our students for their next step in life. We are evaluating what we teach, how we teach, and implementing authentic literacy in all of our classes and curriculum. Schmoker challenges his readers with this observation: “Our failure to be clear and focused prevails even as we continue, year after year, to attend conferences, workshops, and book studies; adopt complex programs and initiatives; divide students into groups based on their respective “learning styles”; and integrate technology into our instruction – all the while denying students a coherent curriculum, sound lessons, and meaningful opportunities to read and write.” (Focus, p.13)
We have found that it is extremely important to look at our program as a whole, to determine exactly what we want to accomplish, and then take the appropriate steps to meet these goals. We believe that there is a lot of wisdom in prioritizing and simplifying the process of teaching. Obviously, we want to teach so our students understand and can communicate what they are learning. Our teachers spend a fair amount of time checking for understanding and soliciting feedback from our students. We also believe that one of the most fundamental tools for learning is the ability to read and comprehend what was read. Our teachers are implementing specific times in their classes for students to read texts and manuscripts that relate to what is being taught. Our teachers are also taking time to “model” reading for our students, teaching them to read and ask questions about the text that they are reading. When students have a firm base of reading with comprehension, they generally are equipped well to meet many of the demands that they will face, regardless of the class or subject. In an effort to prepare our students for their next step in life, we want to provide them as many opportunities to read, write, and communicate effectively, as possible.
Staying The Course
As I stated earlier, there are many new and “exciting” activities that are vying for our time. Many of these activities could be regarded as “good”, but the question that we have to ask ourselves is, “Do they help us accomplish our goal?” Many of our students will attend college after they complete high school. We want to allow our students the opportunity to be effective in whatever course of life they are seeking. We want our students to be good thinkers. We want our student’s reading and writing skills to be advanced so they can have a great foundation of comprehension and discernment. We want to focus our attention towards the obvious tasks that prepare our students for college, careers, and citizenship. In order to get there, we want to provide our students a disciplined environment where they can learn to read and write effectively and purposefully. As a staff, we want to model and encourage hard work in our students. Ultimately, we want to prepare our students to live effectively in God’s world regardless of the path and career that they may choose. In order to accomplish this we need to be clear, concise, mission-minded, and to not get distracted in our most basic goals that we have before us.