Monday, March 30, 2009

Freedom And Results

Reading my entry from a few days ago (on alternatives to textbooks), I realized I should probably clarify my statements about Freedom to Innovate and Measurable Results, in light of my suggestion that teachers be allowed to choose non-board-approved textbook substitutes on the Internet.

I think all of us have memories of our favorite teachers. In many cases, these are the teachers who constantly surprised us-- who didn't stick to the usual lesson plans, and went beyond the textbook in conveying their love for their subject. Perhaps they introduced bizarre role-playing exercises, took the class on surprising field trips, or had a knack for creating cool lab explosions. That is why I believe the freedom to innovate is so important: while every teacher should receive advice from their peers and superiors, they must also have the ability to independently teach their classes, utilitizing their own creativity to bring their subjects to life.

But with this level of freedom we must also recognize that the teachers must be held accountable for their students' learning in the end. We must consistently test that the classes really have mastered their expected body of knowledge, using tests and other measurements that can be objectively compared across classes and schools. If a teacher is wildly creative and entertaining, but doesn't succeed in teaching, that's not a good fit for our school system. On the other hand, if a teacher uses unconventional methods and materials but delivers the results in the end, we should do all we can to reward and encourage them to continue.

In short, what I'm discussing here is the difference between process orientation and results orientation. (Those of you who work with me may recognize the influence of "Intel Values" here.) "Process orientation" means thousands of pages of policy manuals and dictates from every level of authority, controlling how classroom time is spent. "Results orientation" means a much greater degree of freedom for teachers and schools, as long as they deliver the results in the end. While there is a level of security in process orientation ("I did what they said, so they have no right to complain"), the results are really what matter. And I think you will find that in general, most educated professionals, including teachers, are much happier in a dynamic, results-oriented environment.

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