The ‘learning pit’ of Harvard: a data wise inquiry into what next!

We are at the end of our time at Harvard having had our presentation both acknowledged by the facility and celebrated by our American colleagues.It felt gooood!

Our thinking was then sharpened over the remainder of the course to focus on the next level of work. Our goal to build teacher capacity to use data to make appropriate instructional decisions for all students in their care remains unchanged. So what is it that potentially blocks the path, for all schools are known to show immunity against change.

We heard from Deborah Jewell-Sherman a former district superintendent who transformed that district to improve the life chances of thousands of young people. You could feel the passion in her voice as it quivered over a story and see her steely resolve when faced by people she termed “CreVils” She acknowledged there were some casualties but that her belief in teachers to do the work remained strong.

It’s uncomfortable to feel that our school’s multiple successes, for which we are rightly proud of, may turn out to be part of the reason for our cultural immunity. We have a successful school by most measures ( academic) which means our teachers are doing OK. Sure we don’t always jump on the roof and celebrate this work which is something we need to get better at anyway.

It’s in the celebrations that we each find the excitement and renewed energy to sustain us in this complex and demanding role called teaching.

School academic successes are usually reported in school – cohort – class level – or sub group data which can mask individual students learning journeys. Without these individual stories our sense of urgency to Improve, to stretch ourselves as educators can be dulled – right – because the school data says we are doing well so why change what seems to be working. Our sense of urgency to stretch and feel what James Nottingham calls “discomfort in the learning pit” can be dulled.

What to do?

We say let’s now start collecting the individual student stories. Let’s ask ourselves is this is as good as it gets for this child? Is there something more that we could do so that this person’s future life opportunities are expanded and fulfilled. Let’s not become complacent with the school or group wide data, no matter how good it is, until it tells us about all the individual learning journeys of our young people.

This means a rethink on some of our current practices, resetting some personal improvement goals and this is what we are taking back to the individual adult and young learners at
Elsternwick Primary.

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