Staying Dry in the Churning Waters of School Reform

I enjoy paddling the waters of the Adirondack Mountains in my 17-foot Wenonah canoe. The serenity and peacefulness of a quiet mountain lake are unparalleled, and it’s easy to get lost in the moment. Years ago I enjoyed a faster pace on the white waters of the Hudson and Sacandaga Rivers, but even then great joy could be found in the lazier stretches where white water yields to quiet pools and eddies. It’s comfortable going with the flow, letting the slower currents pull you along towards your final destination as you relish the placidness of your surroundings. No sense of urgency. No stress. Just easy as you go. Deep breath in, deep breath out. You don’t get anywhere fast, but the journey is spectacular. Alas, today such moments are fleeting and sparsely spaced around long weekends and planned vacation time. And in the world of education and Race to the Top (RttT), the pace is anything but slow and steady.

After a whirlwind year of professional development around Common Core Learning Standards, Annual Professional Performance Reviews, and Data-Driven Instruction, school are now in full-fledged implementation of the Regents Reform Agenda. With CCLS-aligned state assessments scheduled for release this coming spring, it’s fair to say teachers and administrators alike are caught in the choppy whitewaters of change. We are riding class three rapids in an open canoe, trying to avoid the rocks and standing waves that threaten to throw us out into the cold, wild waters of low-end HEDI ratings. Getting through the rapids in one piece to the quieter waters that lie ahead will take skill, hard work, and perseverance.

Whether or not one bought into this wild ride ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago in their career, it’s safe to say the Regents Reform Agenda has radically transformed how we do education in New York State. RttT has created an extremely choppy environment that demands a retooling of skill sets and understandings about instructional leadership, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. It requires a focus on doing a few things extremely well, and as evidenced by the rigor of sample test items released by the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) this week, that focus may best be directed towards understanding and practicing the Common Core Learning Standards Instructional Shifts.

Just as immersing the paddle blade fully when employing a powerful J or draw stroke through whitewater are timeless strategies for successfully whitewater paddling, the Instructional Shifts may indeed prove to be the timeless strategies for raising student achievement in this new era of rigor, relevance, and accountability. So tie down your gear, scan your surroundings, work together with your colleagues, stay dry, and remember those “Shifts” as you proceed along.


Author: Stephen Danna

Climate Reality Leader

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