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Peyton Manning Can Call Audibles, Can you?


I'm not afraid to admit it. Standardization -- it scares me.

It's the monster under the bed, lurking in the closet, rumbling around in the attic of my mind. Its the haunting moans in the walls of the profession, a harbinger of doom. In fact at times, in states of sleep deprived overly-dramatic hyperbolization, it is the end of days. At least in my head.

Its not common concepts, core values, or normalized skill sets that go bump in my night. No, the zombie lurking in my room is mandated standardized teaching, the cranking out of factory built sameness. The terror is this: If educators are bitten by standardization will they cease to think for themselves? If they must all teach "X" during the __th week and then assess that content on Friday, will they churn out little stardardized zombie students?

Ultimately, my fear is the dichotomous relationship between what we want (teachers as professionals) and what we may be moving toward (teachers as laborers).

(Warning, Mixed Metaphors Ahead!)

The teacher as professional is still a long way off. That's not to say there are not a number of very professional teachers in the field. There are. However, there is a difference between "teachers who are professionals" and "teachers as professionals". In the former, some teachers act as polished experts, while in the latter, the field of teaching is respected for its (eek, eek) standard of excellence.

In many ways, teachers are quarterbacks in the football game of schooling. They try to move the ball of learning and knowledge down the field despite the numerous linebackers that attempt to halt forward progress. The talented quarterback, much like judo experts, use the oncoming obstacles as opportunities. (Technology is a good example of this. Teachers who embrace students' immersion in it can move their team closer to touchdowns than those who try to keep it off the line of scrimmage.)

Teachers able (meaning possessing both the ability and autonomy) to "read the field" and make adjustments fair better than those who cannot (either do to ineptitude or restriction).

I'm not suggesting that teachers go on the field without a game plan or without consulting regularly with their coach (administrator, team, mentor, or planbook). Professionals work in collaboration on a number of fronts and approach each task with established goals and objectives. Teachers are no different. The well prepared teacher can manage a wider assortment of obstacles than can an unprepared one.

The great topography of the US, both in terms of geography and demography, is a boon to our future possibilities. Myriad communities, resources, and experiences present schools with a rich diversity of ideas, cultures, and personalities. The adaptable and engaging teacher culls from this a unique blend of opportunities, tailored specifically to the students under his/her leadership. Innovation is born of imagination, discovery, research, knowledge, and exploration. Creativity and flexibility are necessary components of growth and development, and schools can be allies in this far beyond the 3 r's.

Because of the dynamic nature of classrooms, teachers able to tailor curriculum to the reality on the ground -- essentially to adapt to the configuration of the defense -- can "score more touchdowns" and provide students with more skill depth than teachers who stick to the texts.

The ability to take advantage of learning opportunities depends on three interrelated components:

1. Teachers trained to "read the field" and adapt or construct curriculum to meet the reality of the field. Colleges of ed need to prepare teachers who know how to learn. For working with interns in my classroom, I use this sheet. We can't simply give teachers autonomy. It must be worked into the system, to capitalize on diverse ideas, talents, and visions. Students thrive under inspired teachers.

2. Administrators who have (and can use) more effective methods for providing teachers with feedback and support. (I'm a big fan of this rubric.)

3.The support and respect of the policy making establishment and, by proxy, the public. (A pay grade that attracts top flight candidates might help.)

I wonder, can we standardize creativity, individualism, differentiation, learning opportunities, innovation, and a sense of community in our learning environments? I think we can, but it'll take a different effort than "simply" standardizing for scoring high on standardized tests. We need to standardize teachers' ability (skill as well as autonomy) to follow the lead of the students, and fully capitalize on the gifts students bring with them.

Teachers need to be able to call audibles without fear of reprimand. Its not going to happen over night (nor should it), but with concerted effort, it can happen. And the team, the kids, will only benefit, if we do it right.

Peyton Image: UPI.com

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