I was recently visiting one of our Success for All schools in the most disadvantaged neighborhood in San Antonio, Texas. The amazing principal, Kathleen St. Clair, was telling me about something she had done to build commitment to the program among her teachers. She asked them to bring in pictures of their own kids, or relatives' kids. The teachers passed around their photos with all appropriate "oohs" and "ahs" and "awws." Ms. St. Clair then asked her teachers what kind of a school they wanted for their kids. They described schools where the children would feel cherished, challenged, and respected every day, where they had every chance to succeed and opportunities to be creative, to write well, to read critically. They wanted schools that their kids would be eager to attend, in which they would be active, engaged learners because the work was interesting and worthwhile.
Ms. St. Clair acknowledged that what her teachers described was what all parents want for their children. "Why," she asked, "why shouldn't we want the same for the children we teach?"
If you follow this blog, you've heard me going on at length about the importance of using high-quality evidence to make consequential decisions for children. I hope nothing I've written leads anyone to think that I'm suggesting anything different from what Ms. St. Clair was so powerfully advocating. Love has to come first. A teacher without a passion for children and a belief in what they can accomplish is not likely to make much of a difference even using the most research-proven of programs.
A principal or a school staff should choose proven programs out of love for their children, out of belief in their potential. The evidence matters, but in the sense that choosing and then implementing a proven program should be an indicator of the love and care teachers have for their children. Just as a pediatrician, for example, makes certain to choose research-proven treatments because they have real consequences for the children they serve and care about, so should school leaders and school staffs learn about, choose, and effectively implement proven programs, not because the programs are "in," not because they want to avoid sanctions in state accountability schemes, not because they are worried about a new teacher evaluation, but because there is strong evidence that they work for kids, and then create the kinds of schools all parents want their children to attend.
We need to pay attention to all the research designs, statistics, and technical details that indicate that programs have been rigorously and successfully evaluated. Because all of those statistics come from the head rather than the heart, some people assume that people who love numbers don't love children. Yet we don't show love for children by giving them ineffective or unproven instruction and watching them fail. Love and data must go hand in hand to help all of our children succeed in school and grow to be confident, capable, and caring people themselves.
The next time someone challenges the need for evidence to support educational practice, try showing them pictures of your own children. Try saying, "I want my children to receive the best instructional programs possible, as proven by high-quality evidence. I want this because I love my children and want them to have challenging, exciting, and successful experiences in school, so they can reach their full potential. Isn't that what you want for your own children? Isn't that what you want for all children?"
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