This blog post was originally published by Florida Fellow John Clark on June 12, 2017 on ASCD In Service.

As a secondary school science teacher, I am often referred to as a “classroom teacher” and I use “classroom management” to make the classroom productive. But discussions about what happens in my classrooms too often start with the word “student,” as if these two classroom players – teacher and student – were not part of the same endeavor: to learn and grow. Intentionally or unintentionally honing in on students in some situations and teachers in others will continue to produce ineffective policies, unproductive conversations, and sub-optimal results in these classrooms.

We can fix that by re-framing conversations about teachers and students into conversations about “classrooms” – the setting where the needs of both teachers and students are measured equally in advancing academic success. Looking at programs or policies at a classroom level enables a rounder discussion of the needs, resources and goals of both teachers and students in framing success. This is not simply semantics, but a mindset shift, one that will not happen accidentally but requires active intervention and intentionality.

The major challenge in working within the “classroom” parameters is keeping the conversations about teachers and students united. Too easily I find that educational initiatives are quickly partitioned off to the group believed to be most impacted, student or teacher. Higher standards are about students. Teacher preparation and retention is about teachers. But when my classroom door closes, programs no longer impact only one side of the teacher’s desk. My students and I, at that moment, become a unit with a single goal: learning!

Consider three examples, of varying levels of impact, that might benefit from a “classrooms” approach:

  1. Rigorous college- and career-ready standards, or Common Core, were an initiative of the National Governor’s Association to better prepare students to graduate college and enter the workforce. A noble goal, to be sure. However, programs for training teachers to support this type of student learning were not always developed in parallel with standards implementation, and therefore success is inconsistent. Blaming teachers (or their Unions) for a lack of student achievement on high-stakes tests suggests that the solution only lies with the teachers, whereas I believe aiming high is a full classrooms endeavor – teacher to student, student to student, and with support of parents, too.
  2. Consider district-level, high-investment “ed tech” programs, committees coming together to research and select new technology with the laudable focus of increasing student success. What is often neglected, though, is properly preparing teachers for the roll-out of such tools. The result, once again, is inconsistent success between classrooms because we did not view learning with these new technologies as a teacher-student or “classroom” activity.
  3. I’ve participated in a many a well-intended workshop or PD session that ends up of little value to its audience. I’m recalling a great science activity workshop I attended on electricity, where much thought and expense was invested in designing and delivering the program – one I loved and was excited to bring back to my classes. “This costs just a few dollars per student,” the presenters assured us about the materials. I learned later that they were consumables and more than a few dollars. The math: $4/student x 170 students = $680 for one lab per year. For a Title One school like mine, challenged to afford the most basic supplies for science instruction, that was not a viable investment. If the workshop creators had been planning with a “classrooms” approach, assessing the real possibilities for educators in attendance and their students, they might have selected alternative activities to demonstrate.

As an experienced educator, I know that focusing more on one part of the classroom equation over the other, even unintentionally, results in incomplete discussions and false-start initiatives for schools. If we could shift a few educational conversations from just “teachers” or “students” to a “classrooms” focus, I believe we, as educators, students, parents, and administrators could have a more positive impact with those shaping and those implementing educational policy. None of these stakeholder groups seeks failure, after all. Educational policy is created to raise the success level of students and schools, with teachers as the helm. It is we teachers as practitioners who should advise the groups that formulate policy to make this same “classroom” shift in their conversations, so we can together expand positive outcomes in classrooms everywhere.

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John Clark has been an advocate for literacy and higher standards since he entered the world of education. As a second career teacher, he knew the literacy and math skills that were needed in the workplace. As part of two national American Federation of Teachers workgroups, John has provided ongoing input on the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards. John views the new standards as a way to close the achievement gap between being “graduation ready†and being “college and career ready.†For his work in promoting literacy across all disciplines, John was voted 2012 Literacy Leader of the Year by the Volusia County School District. For his innovative teaching methods, he has received multiple awards including two U.S. State Department International Fellowships and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching for the State of Florida.

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