When Was the Last Time You Shadowed Your Child-Tween-Teen in School for a Day?

CJ Westerberg, September 4, 2012 6:13 PM


Nov.17, 2012 - Editor's Note:  Lately, I've been shadowing some really good schools (after not shadowing for awhile having experienced much of what Wiggins talks about below).  This is post that was previously published and is a classic. - C.J. Westerberg

"When was the last time you folks shadowed students for a day? 
It is a grim experience."
- educator Grant Wiggins' comment to John Merrow in PBS, Learning Matters

 Parents: Ready to Shadow?

What if parents took one day off from work once per school year to shadow (or two half days)? There would be a different understanding about the school experience - both from the student perspective and teacher perspective.  I've shadowed many classes in various schools from K through 12 (either as parent and/or journalist), and it can make a real difference.
Do we want real parental engagement beyond the bake sale?  There is nothing like being there - where it's really happening.  While a "parent night" may give one an idea of teacher style and expectations, and possibly a highly artificial one at that,  there is nothing like the real thing - being in a class with students without fanfare.
Although one class visit may be an anomaly (an unusually good or bad day), it's far more real an experience than what we may imagine.

During the Save Our Schools March and Rally, Matt Damon may have been getting more headlines, yet it was great conversation that caught our attention the most.  Thanks to PBS'
John Merrow.  Let's zero in on one of the provocative points that served as our headline - this one from author, speaker, and edu-provocateur, Grant Wiggins. 

This from Merrow:

I am one of those middle-of-the-road guys who is concerned about the polarization of public education. I see an ever widening gap, with "We must trust teachers" on one side and "We must verify with high stakes testing because we don't trust teachers" on the other. I think Ronald Reagan - no hero to liberals - got it right when he said, "Trust but verify."

Now, here is the full Grant Wiggins comment in the blog post thread:
My views are such that, though I was invited to speak this weekend, I declined. Having spent 30 years at this I come to the conclusion that until and unless teachers treat students with greater intellectual respect, nothing will change.
Until and unless school is defined as talent development and not a march through The Valued Past, we will fail. School is boring for many if not most. When was the last time you folks shadowed students for a day?  It is a grim experience. It is endlessly easy to blame Others, those Outsider bad guys. But from where I sit, the problem is a Pogo problem: I have met the enemy; it is us.

Let me speak a blunt truth: few teachers truly understand their job at a deep level.
Every workshop we do, we ask teachers to write their own Mission statement; few can do it. They
are so drawn to cover content instead of using content to engage minds that even the best schools are nowhere near as good as they should be. The students who succeed are those who trust adults and delay gratification.

And please, Monty, stop blaming it all on tests. The same behavior exists in private schools and in colleges. And as I wrote last year in Ed Leadership after studying all of MCAS items in math and ELA for the past few years I come to the bitter conclusion that state tests are much better than local tests - the only valid way to explain the gap between local grades and state test scores, BTW.

The unions? Don't get me started. I have been at dozens of meetings and workshops where "work to rule" means that people leave at 4 pm on the dot no matter what was happening. I have seen unions veto policies that would have been harder work for teachers but better for kids. I have never seen teachers go on strike for kids. I have seen grievances filed over educational policies that good teachers instituted.

I think I know a few things about test prep. It is a FAILED response, a TIMID response, an UNIMAGINATIVE response to one's obligations. It has nothing to do with what tests actually demand. I have seen no evidence that teaching must worsen for test scores to rise; I only know that mediocre teachers and principals BELIEVE this. In fact the best teaching occurs in good schools where teachers know what good teaching is and do it. Do you see the most or least test prep in the finest schools? The test prep argument is an utter red herring, showing the bankruptcy of educators. My work in curriculum and assessment reform has always shown that local control of learning and assessment is the determining factor in whether a school is good or not. Well, of course!

In good schools there are people who know what good teaching, learning, and assessment looks like; and that strong leadership is needed to make it happen.

Until and unless students are given a better shake in terms of an engaging and empowering curriculum classroom by classroom, schools will continue to under serve our kids. That has nothing at all to do with federal or state policy. And we have only a few years to get this right: video games and online learning are knocking at the door, with more engaging, mastery-based experiences that are teaching all kids that learning can be fun and not make you feel stupid.

The only way John's pleas for a sensible middle can be achieved is if educators finally get honest and say -- mea culpa; school is more boring and ineffective than it needs to be, so let's get our own house in order before the outsiders force us to do dumb things with their crude policy levers. Had unions and other groups lobbied hard for alternatives to current policy we also might not be in this mess.

But for 25 years the educational establishment has just lobbied hard to complain >about what it doesn't like. Washington works the old fashioned way: write the laws and give them to legislators.

When was the last time all the key players got together and did that? 

What do you think?   Obviously, there are many hot button issues here that Wiggins addresses  with Gatto-like conviction.
We've also included two quick videos below of Grant Wiggins and John Merrow below, from the 2010 ASCD Conference.
Originally Posted August 2011 - please see original post for full context since this post has been slightly edited to reflect the non-breaking news status when previously published.

Related posts The Daily Riff:

Are We Preparing Kids for our Age or Theirs?  Have you spent any time in a classroom recently?

Steve Jobs:  Why don't schools get rid of the crappy stuff?

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  • Ric

    As I always say, if you believe your theory is correct, shut up and get yourself in (or back in) the classroom and DO IT. Not for a day, or a unit, but for the the same school.

    I use Wiggins & McTighe's UbD, but it has major practical gaps that only a practicing teacher of young people can understand.

    When asked why they left the classroom, I wish people like this would stop using the "to train teachers is my calling" excuse to run away from the classroom.

    There is a reason they sit in the back like mice.

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