Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Fighting for Day 1. . . Every Day (Still)

You may have already read some articles and blogs about the letter to Amazon shareholders from Jeff Bezos in which he writes about Day 1. The letter begins with this:
 "Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?"
That's a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I've been reminding people that it's Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.
 "Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1."
He goes on to say that he is interested in how organizations can fend off Day 2.

How does that play in education? In the classroom? I've been thinking about that on and off for a while.

What if teachers came to school every day as though it were Day 1? What if they greeted their students with no preconceived ideas about their students' abilities? What if they approached their students' processes and capabilities of learning as full of potential?

That's not to say they should do a Groundhog Day and literally start over every day. Teachers need to be and will be mindful of the very real challenges of their students and because of their students. But a Day 1 mindset suggests more positivity.

George Couros asks if we'd want to be a student in our own classrooms and wonders what students say about their time in school. I can answer that for some students though the answers are slightly different by the end of the year than they are at the beginning of the year.

"The teacher is always sitting at his desk or in his chair looking at his phone when we come in."
"The teacher is checking her email or texting while we have our breakfast and doing our silent reading in the morning. It's almost as though she's just keeping us busy so she can do her own thing."
"The teacher yells at us to be quiet but why do we have to be quiet All The Time?"
"The teacher never listens when we try to tell him we didn't do something but he always blames whoever he thinks is misbehaving. He judges us."
"The teacher gets impatient when I ask questions because I don't understand. So I stopped asking questions and now she yells at me because I don't try."
"My teacher judged me as soon as I walked in the door. What's the point in trying to change her mind? I gotta just get through it."

Some schools are in the first few weeks of the new school year; others are still preparing for Day 1. Even those who have not yet started school are already bracing themselves for disappointment. Yes, for disappointment.
"Kids these days just don't want to try."
"No matter what I do, these kids just don't want to think."
"All of our students are so disruptive. They have no respect for anything or anyone, even the little kids."
"Well my grade is a testing grade and I have to worry about all of my kids who are reading 2, 3, even 4 grades below my grade level. AND I worry that my job is on the line if kids don't pass the test."
"Oh it doesn't matter what new system or new tool or new whatever they try to train us on. It's all going to change again in a few years."
"This back-to-school professional development is a waste of time. Our administration gives us a new five-year plan every two years. They think we don't notice that?"

Well, with attitudes and perceptions like these, it's a wonder teachers or students get past Day 1. Sure, there are a lot of factors working against teachers and students from Day 1. Even so, I can't help but wonder what would happen if teachers and students approached every school day with a sense of hope, possibility, and determination as though it were Day 1.

It doesn't help that teachers and students and administrators feel ridiculous pressure because of a ridiculous number of often meaningless tests.

It doesn't help that too often the adults in a child's life aren't involved in meaningful ways.

It doesn't help that too often the adults in a child's life can't be involved in meaningful ways.

It doesn't help that districts too often can't or won't provide the kinds of classroom support teachers really need--aides, coaches, appropriate resources.

It doesn't help that far too many administrators still think some resource or program is going to be the secret sauce that will make test scores rise.

It doesn't help that one of the professions that should be the most innovative and the most disruptive is often the most afraid to invite meaningful disruption or even opportunity for the smallest meaningful change.

It doesn't help that many educators at all levels cling to the old "because we've always done it this way" or reject something different "because we tried that once, maybe 20 years ago, and it didn't work" or because they and the educational institutions they serve cling to the ideas and policies that have been proven less than effective.

It doesn't help that government agencies at all levels insist on tying the hands of classroom teachers through policies that reek of inefficiency and policy pork rather than respect teachers' professional judgment and provide them with meaningful professional development and support that will give them the means to refine and develop their craft.

Even so, most of the teachers I know who grouse about student behavior and attitude and the range of challenges they face with or because of their students get up and go to school every morning with the hope that something good is going to happen. Most of the teachers I know start to think about how they can integrate something they've learned because it excites their own passion for learning and they want to share that passion.

They need to be able to vent and they will figure out how to make it work. They will not give up. They will fight, even in small ways, for their version of Day 1.

When I wrote last spring about fighting for Day 1, it was too late for the 2016-2017 school year. Whether school is already underway or about to start next week, it's really not too late to fight for Day 1. And keep fighting. Every day.

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