Oh, Good Teachers Have Always Done That…

The cliche says: Man, if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that. One cliched turn deserves another. I’ve been thinking about backwards design and this concept, what good teachers do anyway.

Very rarely do I say, or hear said: Oh, that’s a great idea that I’ve appropriated for serious misuse. But when I make my big mistakes, it is so often thus. Backwards design from an end that is meaningless, or worthless, or counterproductive, or at cross-purposes to colleagues, or ill-conceived will yield a process that takes us all to this barren shore together, a la high stakes standardized testing and the general, shallow outcomes it yields.

Of course, I can find silly outcomes on my own. However, by identifying what I value most, I can find high-value targets for students to hit. Additionally, I can design curriculum that allows students freedom and choice in their journey towards meeting or surpassing such targets.

Even more powerfully, communities and institutions like schools can come together and make shared decisions about what they value, and focus in on that. For example, when politicians decide that critical thinking has no place in schools, we can expose that conversation and have it at the local level where I feel solidly that few parents would argue that critical thinking and analysis is bad for their kids, even while they worry that (thanks to decades of demagoguery) schools may be undermining religious beliefs and the like.

Simple, focused statements of value are clear and transparent. Simple, focused statements of value can create outcome targets that aren’t obscure or scary, leading to paranoia like that reflected in the Texas Republican platform. Simple, focused statements of value can help teachers do what they’ve always done, better.

Everything we do in teaching is based fundamentally upon what we value. We should endeavor to honor these values with names and descriptors so that we can work purposefully in the same direction within our schools and our communities. I bet that’s something really great schools have always done…

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