Less is More

Faced with challenging times, educators adjust. Parent adjust. Learners adjust. On a zoom meeting with a colleague this week I heard her say to her “students”, “Just a second… my daughter’s school day is starting in the other room and I want to make sure that she is all set.” She is the teacher and the parent at the same time.  A reflective question to consider; “Are we working from home or at home working?”. It feels like a bit of both for most of us.  For me, the past two weeks have been founded in learning as much as teaching.  Yes, I am still the teacher but, wow, did I learn a great deal.  We are definitely adjusting the sails as we go and I am so thankful for my “teachers”.

The most important lesson for me was definitely the continuous need for less is more.  Teachers continue to consider what is best and the most impactful with the least amount of stress for parents and students when they assign or suggest “home” work.fullsizeoutput_17a0  Less work but more energy being spent on connecting and continuing relationships is working for the teachers that I had the great pleasure to work with over the past ten days.

The less is more concept also applies to planning for next year; which, for most of my schools and districts, that is where time is now being spent.  Focused discussions on the essential learnings that must occur next year and how a year-long curriculum plan and master schedule might be tweaked to address the start of a very different year.  I plan to participate in this free webinar to help me think through next steps- http://solutiontree.com/MindtheGaps.   It begins with expert, Mike Mattos laying the foundation as we think about using time and interventions to take care of student needs.

Honestly, the best we can do right now for our students is to engage in professional conversations about the work that we did accomplish this year and what we need to do to get ready for next fall. We have data and the evidence of student knowledge and skills, found within that data, is an important place to start.  We know that, with six to seven months out of school, students will be coming to us with more needs, academically, socially, mentally. We also know that we have an opportune time, right now, to consider and plan for the 2020-2021 school year.  And, I firmly believe that less will be the new more.

We have to decide on essential learning outcomes; the boulders as my friend, Maria Nelson states in all of her presentations. We can consider the rocks ( the nice to knows but not essential)  and butterflies (the learnings that we touch on)  but we have to clarify and agree on what we must have mastery of.  This is the answer to the first professional learning community  process question- What is it we want our students to know and be able to do?  Authors DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many and Mattos (2016) explain in Learning by Doing, that, to answer this question, we have to “identify the essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions each student is to acquire as a result of each unit of instruction.” (https://www.solutiontree.com/learning-by-doing-third-edition.html)  Never has this been a more crucial conversation for collaborative teams then right now.

I read an article this week by  educator, best selling author and one of my personal heroes, Dylan Wiliam.  (https://www.tes.com/news/dylan-wiliam-immoral-teach-too-full-curriculum). He reminds us that, even before COVID-19 and so much missed time in school, teachers face massive quantities of content that they try to “cover”.  He articulates it this way:

“There is no doubt that there’s far too much stuff in our curriculum – I’ve wondered about why this is, and my conclusion is that curriculum developers cannot bear the thought that any children might have spare time on their hands.

“So they actually make sure there’s enough stuff in the curriculum for the fastest-learning students to be occupied all year. And so there’s far too much for most students, and so teachers have to make sure of this, and some teachers just teach the curriculum, they meter it out and they go from beginning to end, and 20 per cent of the kids get it and the rest don’t – I think that’s logically consistent but immoral.”

For years, Wiliam’s expertise has guided many of us to understand the use of formative assessment and feedback in increasing student success in our classrooms.  He states in the article that when we have too much curriculum, we leave little time for knowing where students are on their learning journey and most importantly, providing them feedback so they know this as well.

As the conversations evolved during the past few days, I am beginning to fully understand that the roadmap that we create for next year must have check for understanding and built in time for intensive interventions. Yes, this is always part of our school improvement work however, for next year, in my opinion, teachers and students will need to be confident of the essential expectations of learning and time will need to be there for all students to learn.  Differentiating instruction, providing quality Tier 1, 2 and 3 interventions and understanding that time is a variable, not a fixed asset, has to be part of our planning- right now- for next year. Mastery of less rather than “covering” more will help build the best journey for our learners. It is time to build the road map, identifying what we know to be essential for student to know and to create master schedules to ensure enough time is there so all students can be successful attaining the essentials.

I am excited and so encouraged as I listen, coach and support teachers and leaders during our new normal. I heard many examples of thinking outside the box so that we can use time effectively, creating stronger teams of teachers to ensure the foundational skill will be addressed and taking the time to really identify students who will need more time to learn. Amazing “aha” moments are alive and well with collaborative teams rising to the challenge and having authentic discussions about what they know are the most important things that their students must know.

Thank you to my “teachers’ these past weeks; educators, leaders colleagues; it was a pleasure to be with you as we continue to build the plane as we are flying it.


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