Image drawn by Matt Drewette-Card using @FiftyThree #madewithpaper
They're similar, yet they are so very different. And that difference makes ALL of the difference.
Standards-based vs. Proficiency-based.
In Maine, we have a law (LD 1422) that is centered on "proficiency" based learning. I've previously written about a simple definition for proficiency that works, but in conversations, conferences, workshops, meetings, etc., I keep hearing "standards-based" being thrown around instead of "proficiency-based." So, I started digging around. I found that Maine is a HUB for the word "proficiency." New Hampshire uses 'competency;" Connecticut uses "mastery." Their intention is the same, but the words are different. OK. No big deal. Same thing with "standards-based" right?
A system can be "standards-based" but not "proficiency-based." A student can advance in a standards-based system while not being proficient. How so? If the student fails to meet the expected level of complexity in the standard, then "proficiency" hasn't been met. Complexity is the skill-part of the standard... you know... when the standard says, "compare and contrast..." or "analyze..." or "identify...". That part. To be proficient, a student needs to prove the content at the level of complexity that's in the standard, and any assessment(s) need to mirror that complexity.
Got it? Good.
Because there's something else missing. A super-secret component that is often left out of the "proficiency-based" equation. And, I argue, it's probably the most important.
We're very comfortable talking about content; we've been doing that for decades. We're marginally comfortable talking about complexity. That's an area that's been in our educational lexicon for decades, but we're still struggling with what it "looks like." And the extent to which our instruction, assessment, and curriculum are all aligned in terms of complexity. By content: sure. That's easy. By complexity: that's harder.
So what about autonomy?
In a rigorous learning environment, to be certified as being "proficient," or "competent" or having "met the standard," students should be expected to meet the learning goals independently. At that point in their learning, they shouldn't need teacher intervention, support, or direction. That should have already happened dozens of times. Autonomy is where students can look at a situation and know whether or not the taught/learned skill and content are appropriate for the situation, and then be able to apply that skill and content correctly and fluently. That's autonomy in a rigorous learning environment.
So, how often are our students provided these authentic experiences to demonstrate autonomy and proficiency? How often, as a summative assessment, simply give the student(s) the learning goal and say:
"Here you go. Prove you can do it. Show me what you've got."
To make our students more resilient to challenges, we have to prepare them to live in a world without safety nets. Our schools are great sandboxes to play with this concept, as school itself is a safety net. We can teach them independence. We can teach them autonomy. We can teach them that the core principle of a free society is knowing when to use a skill, as well as when not to use it.
It's been a while since I've written a post. Like, actually wrote something. I've felt like I wasn't sure what I wanted to say. I'm still new to blogging, and I know I need to be more disciplined... but I often find myself sitting down to write about something I'm working on, working towards, or dream about in the education-realm, only to push my writing aside for "something else."
In terms of writing, I started to feel I was being too preachy. Too lecture-y. Too much of what I strive hard to teach others to eliminate. Not enough vulnerability. Not enough personalization. Not enough direction. Lacking in clear goals.
In other words, I was lacking in leadership. Of myself.
I can't define leadership. To me, it's something that's truly undefinable. I know I can Google "leadership" and find a definition, but, to me, a definition is only worthwhile if I can put it into action and make context out of it. This is why this post begins with a picture of Justice Potter Stewart. In Jacobelis v. Ohio, a 1964 Supreme Court case involving the First Amendment and the word "obscenity." In Stewart's concurrence, "holding that the Constitution protected all obscenity", he wrote:
"I shall not today attempt to further define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But
I know it when I see it."
I look at leadership through the same lens and definition. Leadership exists in schools; at the administration level, at the teacher level, and at the student level. Leadership exists in sports teams. At restaurants. In politics. In corporations. In families. Leadership is everywhere. Yet it looks different in all of those places. It sounds different, too. It also feels different. And I believe that's because: leadership is naturally nebulous.
So what happens when something that by its very nature is hazy, indistinct, or vague, yet that thing is needed in a time and situation that is already clouded, ill-defined, or unclear?
To narrow it down to a specific question: where's the leadership in our educational transition to a proficiency-based learning system?
No one knows how a proficiency-based diploma will actually work. No one knows how a proficiency-based learning system throughout an entire state will actually work. We've barely begun to figure out how it works in a singular classroom, let alone all classrooms in all schools across the Pine Tree State. To do this we need clear leadership... an oxymoron if you've actually read this post in its entirety so far.
This gets to the point of why I'm writing this today. I was feeling lost and vague and rudderless in how to approach this blog. So I let it go for a while. And as a result, guess what happened:
And I don't mean it in the way, like, "Hey, nothing bad happened." No, instead, more like: nothing. The blog just sat there and did... well... nothing. No change. No growth. In uncertain waters, leadership and movement is a necessity. Maintaining status quo in uncertain waters will only lead to more "floating", eventual stagnation, and eventually being left for dead.
Guess what will happen if we maintain status quo in our educational systems: nothing. And I mean that in a bad way. Our students are struggling in terms of building intrinsic motivation to learn and be curious in schools. Our teachers are struggling to support learners of all differentiated abilities in schools. Our administrators are constantly being inundated with tasks and requirements that have little or nothing to do with student learning. Parents are nervous and frustrated. Colleges and Universities are shouting about student abilities (or lack thereof) coming from the K-12 schools. The business world is worried about long-term capacity, innovation, and competition.
So, WHERE IS THE LEADERSHIP?
I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.
I see it on Twitter all of the time. My #edchatme colleagues continuously inspire me locally to push the envelope for kids in my district, in my town, and in my home. My #sblchat colleagues provide direction in terms of resources, ideas, and challenges to address the flaws in our systems. My #dtk12chat colleagues challenge me to think about the world in different ways, and to use the power of people to promote ideas and change vs. the power of authority.
I see leadership in my schools all of the time. I see it in my home (my wife is the kind of leader I aspire to be). I see it everywhere. Yet, it's nowhere at the same time.
So maybe instead of our traditional ideas of leadership being in the hands of a few individuals who then distribute the "path" to the masses, #whatif we flipped that idea to a leadership model that is more distributive? Instead of looking outward/upward for direction, guidance, or information: look inward. Take charge. Make a change and see what happens.
Maybe in this educational nebula we are in, perhaps the greatest skill and/or quality our educational leaders need to have is the ability to lack fear. What do you think?