Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The 'Checklist' syndrome in schools

'Walk to Freedom, Detroit Michigan. Image courtesy of Flickr Commons.

I received an 'advisory curriculum' once when I was a teacher.  "There are a lot of important issues to cover and advisory is the best place to do it" I was told.

Advisory at that time, so you know, was 20 minutes twice a week. Most agreed the time slot was ineffective but over multiple years the time was never adjusted rather reengineered over and over again.

I started flipping through the binder.

There was a calendar of 'suggestions.' One immediately stood out.

The Friday before the Martin Luther King Jr holiday I was asked to "play the famous I Have a Dream speech from Martin Luther King, Jr. in your advisory." Summarizing, it said 'We'd like to have a campus wide discussion on MLK .'

Functionally, with students coming into the room and preparing to leave Advisory was more like 15 minutes you actually had 'with' students. King's full speech is longer than 15 minutes. So... choose what to cover. Ok.

I kept looking though the binder. After the 'MLK Jr advisory' another unrelated topic was on the agenda. And another the next time. And another... and so on.

So... play the video clip or close to it and off you go. The 'discussion' part was left out.

I got to thinking of that 'advisory checklist' again when I read a great article called 'Teaching MLKs life --- The Man, Not the Myth' from Melinda D. Anderson aka @mdawriter.

MLK's life, mentors, work, goals, influence... is far more than just his 'I Have a Dream' speech. It's more than an item to check of a list' or to 'cover' and then get back to the curriculum.

I chose a different route for my advisory. I didn't play the video. Bandwidth was crushed in the school anyway because asking every teacher to stream a YouTube clip at the same time...

I asked the students in my advisory that day if they'd ever read King's full speech. Most hadn't so I encouraged them to do so some time in the near future. We spoke about 'advisory curriculum' briefly and the danger of discussing issues superficially. We started a conversation that day about social justice, white privilege and media coverage on these topics and discussed them on and off for the rest of the year... at the expense of nearly all the other subjects on the checklist.

I'll confess, most of the advisory time I spent getting to know students, finding out what was going on in their lives, helping them find connections in school and the community, and helping them learn to advocate for themselves and interests.

Of course... I was hesitant to jot this down and share. My citing MLK this time of year isn't just for effect or to forward my own agenda, as Jose Vilson eloquently points out.

I guess I'm just discouraged... because I still see so many one and done, curriculum coverage checklists in education.

King's work was far greater than one speech. His message was far more than something to check off a list in a one and done conversation.

1 comment:

  1. It is enticing to share all the content which might be pertinent to any subject as the curriculum; educators love to share! However, to stuff so much in that conversation around ideas is pushed out is a danger to guard against. Our newest educators might not sense the heart of learning is neglected when students are not given opportunities to process their thoughts.
    I really liked Advisories I taught; I dearly loved Advisories I truly got to know. There is some wisdom in limited what a teacher pushes into Advisory and what a seasoned educator can pull out of an Advisory.