Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Challenges Educators Face

We live in amazing times.  Technology, most specifically social media, has flattened the world. Remember when we had to get all of our professional literature and information from journals, books, conferences, over the phone, or people that we came in direct contact with? Educators now have access anytime from anywhere to people, ideas, resources, strategies, and feedback.  As much as this has been a game-changer for so many, we now have better access to research and evidence of improved student outcomes to really hone in on the types of changes that are needed in classrooms, schools, and districts across the world. 

Even with all the positives associated with what I listed above, the truth of the matter is that much of it doesn’t matter when the realities educators face are not given the attention that they deserve.  Just because something sounds good on Twitter and during a keynote or looks good on Pinterest and Instagram does not mean whatever is being promoted will work. Context matters. Finances matter. Facilities matter. Staffing and community support matter.  I have been blessed to not only deliver keynotes and workshops but also to facilitate job-embedded coaching on a long-term basis. It is the latter component of my work where I see firsthand the challenges educators are facing regardless of zip code.  This work has provided me with a more empathetic lens and has allowed me to tailor and personalize the coaching process as well as the feedback that is delivered.  

Image credit: NEA Today

How I see things is still limited and can be influenced by bias. Now don’t get me wrong. I see some significant obstacles and challenges thanks to the long-term work I am engaged in. However, I wanted to move beyond me and focus on the people who are in the trenches on a day to day basis.  This led me to pose a question on Twitter, asking educators to share their particular challenges.  You can see the tweet below. 

Here is a summary of the majority of the responses:
  • Fear of failure and willingness to fail forward
  • Helping educators understand and integrate maker-centered learning
  • Helping teachers and leaders break down silos and understand it is not a competition but a concerted push to provide students with learning experiences they need.
  • Effective strategies to remind adults we are preparing kids for the future not the adults for the future
  • The mental health of students. We don’t have the support needed for emotionally or mentally challenged students that are in the regular education class.
  • Dedicating time to fortify universal instruction and systematic procedures while continuing to attend to the intensive needs of the high volume of kids in crisis & experiencing trauma.
  • Inspiring high school students to choose teaching as a profession.
  • Attracting the best and brightest to the field
  • Boys’ achievement and engagement. There is a considerable disparity at present in our school across all years.
  • Finding the balance between "meet students where they are" and "getting them where they need to go." Many educators are clear on the former, then handhold & scaffold low expectations. Others are better at the latter then lose a good % of their class by not differentiating enough.
  • Lack of alignment of educational institutes knowledge with the practical world. Educational institutions are preparing the future leaders, and due to lack of such coordination they fail to groom themselves as per new emerging trends and increase their absorption level in industry.
  • Work-life balance 
  • Implementing Innovative student-centered learning that improves outcomes 
  • Matching sustainable grading practices that reflect learning
  • Empowering teachers and maintaining alignment to mission, vision, curriculum, etc.
  • Feeling genuinely supported in taking risks and being innovative in the classroom.
  • Students not taking responsibility. Even taking responsibility for picking trash up that they dropped.
  • Inclusion and REAL collaborative teaching... integration of universally designed practices to help all students (which covers social justice, restorative practices, SEL) and somehow helping more teachers embrace that accommodations are not cheating.
  • Screen time for students
  • Making technology purposeful, not just tech for the sake of it
  • Students don’t hold the information anymore as they can get it anywhere. There is a need to teach them not only to access safely and critically but also to apply and construct new knowledge.
  • Motivating digital immigrant teachers and administrators to have a growth mindset to try new strategies and tools.
  • Using interactive whiteboards like projectors
  • Teacher-student ratio
  • Principals seem to be regretting their decision to go into leadership as they have too much on their plate and not enough time. More supports are needed.
  • There is always a new program being purchased. It's used for a few years and then discarded, leading to a high level of initiative fatigue.
  • Real evaluation and accountability
  • School overcrowding, support of libraries by districts, and limited access to libraries
  • Principals with control issues
  • Antiquated buildings, facilities, and resources
  • Ideas that don’t align to consider the realities educators have to deal with
  • Drive-by, one and done professional development that is not on-going, job-embedded, aligned to research, have evidence to back up the investment and lacks accountability for growth.
There are a lot of challenges listed.  What would you add to the list above? 

By putting these and others front and center, efforts can be made to develop practical solutions. Before any new change or mandate, considerations have to be made as to the feasibility (and sustainability) of the idea, strategy, or investment.  Case in point. If you are asking teachers to differentiate instruction on a daily basis, class size and resources matter. Or if you are committed to blended learning, then a combination of pedagogical change as well as updated spaces is needed. It behooves all of us to consider reality when ideas are presented, whether through social media, workshops, professional development days, in books, or during keynotes and presentations.  The struggle for many is real, and they need our support.

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