Benchmarks, Data, Standards, Teacher Observations. Somewhere along the way these terms have been related to the death of creativity and independence in the teaching profession. Although we are professionals, we also like to think of ourselves as artists in a way. After all, isn't the "art of teaching" the definition of pedagogy? When we think of good teachers, we can easily consider them artists or entertainers in their own right. The teachers I remember most were charismatic, funny, exciting, and generally enthused about their line of work. So the question is, in the age of high stakes testing and standards based instruction, can we still be artists while maintaining professional practices in the classroom? I believe the answer is yes.
Now think of any professional that is considerably "high profile." For the sake of brevity lets just examine surgeons, lawyers, and professional athletes. Now, in all three of these careers one could easily come to the conclusion that there have to be some inherent characteristics for a person to be successful in each specific career. There is no arguing that you can't be a professional athlete without some key ingredients. I would say that successful teachers also match that description. Not everyone will be a successful classroom teacher in their life's calling. However, talent alone is not what makes surgeons, lawyers, athletes or teachers successful. There is a lot of practice, data review, professional development, and collaboration that goes along with success in these careers.
Does a surgeon not consult other surgeons in his field when he or she is confronted with a new experience? Does a professional athlete not review film to see how he or she can improve? Does a lawyer (please release your mind of stereotypes) not look at precedence from other cases before standing in front of the judge? I believe we all know the answers to these questions. That brings me to how this relates to teachers.
As educators we are professionals who have a clear goal of providing a quality education to all students who walk through that door. Some can argue that this is THE most important profession because it directly relates to the future of our planet. This is why it is so important for us to understand that in order to perform at the highest level, we need to hold true to professional practices. Notice that I did not say we have to because it is mandated by the state or federal government. We need to evaluate, research, and collaborate on a regular basis to make our schools more successful.
In everything that we do we should be able to show proof of effectiveness and be able to determine strengths and weaknesses. This is just as true for project based learning. We should be given feedback from teacher observations. We should have some sort of benchmark regularly to see if we are growing and if we are effective. We should have guidelines of what we are teaching and I am not necessarily talking about state standards. This will not destroy "the art of teaching" as we know it. Instead, it will improve our ability to be true artists.
As this year is ready to begin, keep in mind that it is not against our creative nature to embrace the aforementioned practices. We need to balance our professional practices with our artistic practices. So when your administrator or department chair is pushing for benchmarks and data, make sure that you let them know that you will not compromise your art, but you will be accountable through professional practices. Because in the end, our sole objective is to provide our kids with an excellent education. Leading is Teaching.