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Lovingkindness or High Test Scores?

October 29, 2012

Today’s NYTimes featured an article in the Opinionator section titled “Teaching Lessons”. The article was written by a classroom teacher who described her experiences with professional development in somewhat cynical and dismissive fashion EXCEPT for a recent experience she had learning about and using the Responsive Classroom. The approaches advocated in the Responsive Classroom are not new and are not unproven. I recall reading about this approach over two decades ago in a Phi Delta Kappa article and seeking it in action in schools where I served in New York State and New Hampshire. Here’s a brief description of the program:

The Responsive Classroom approach centers on several ostensibly mundane classroom practices. Each morning students form a circle, greet one another, share bits of news, engage in a brief, fun activity and review the day’s agenda. The idea is to build trust, ensure a little fun (which adolescents crave) and confront small problems before they become big. Students might welcome one another with salutations from a foreign language. An activity might involve tossing several balls around a circle in rapid succession. Students share weekend plans or explore topics like bullying before lessons begin.

If this sounds obvious or intuitive, it is, but so is being loving and kind. That doesn’t make it easier to achieve. Part of what makes the approach effective is that each routine is highly structured, and so replicable, but allows for student input and choice.

My comment on the article expresses my disillusionment with the current state of professional development, which too often focuses on increasing test scores and neglects important but tough-to-measure things like character:

It is unfortunate that worthwhile programs like the responsive classroom need to tie themselves to standardized tests. As long as we hold schools accountable based on test scores, most professional development funds will go toward “improving test scores” and not toward things like the responsive classroom. It is difficult for many politicians, school boards and administrators to buy into the notion that teaching abstract and hard-to-measure skills like “cooperation, assertiveness and empathy” will yield high test scores and, after all, high test scores ARE the ultimate measure of success. I daresay that any “failing school” seeking additional funds for the Responsive Classroom as a means of increasing test scores would have that request denied.

In reading the comment section, it was noteworthy that the schools where this seemed to be embraced were private schools where test results were NOT important. I’d rather see my child in a school where school where lovingkindness was emphasized more than tests…

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