Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Importance of the Process

The Process. The path that leads to the end of the journey. I think back to my honeymoon with my wife that we spent in Peru. We visited one of the natural wonders of the world, Machu Picchu, and it was breathtaking. I will never forget the sun coming up over the Andes and revealing the beautiful ruins created in isolation by the Incas hundreds of years ago. But honestly, as fantastic as that was, that was not the best part. My favorite part of the experience was the five day hike through the mountains that led us to the incredible finish. We went through elevation changes that took us as high as 14,000 feet, we met with rural villagers who invited us into their homes to grab a snack, and we shared moments that will be with us for a lifetime. Now, when people ask me about it, its easiest to describe the end of the journey, but the aspect that influenced me at the core will always be the process. The truth is, the process is the most important part of any endeavor. So why do we so often rob our students of experiencing this?

So often there is too much focus on pace, content delivery, and grades. This happens even with the best of teachers. Teachers give students instruction, assign classwork or homework, and wait to receive their final product. So high school teachers, can simultaneously receive 150 assignments in one day based on what they assigned. So the teacher grades what is turned in and marks down what is not turned in with very minimal feedback. This is often the routine that each class follows, while overlooking a major flaw in the system....where is the focus on the process?

If you have ever coached anything or been coached in anything, you know this well. Imagine your coach teaching you the offense on a white board, telling you when the game is, and then showing up on game day to watch you play. Chances are you and your team would fail miserably. There is no focus on the process and the fundamentals. There is no chance to work on passing, dribbling, defense, being in shape, etc. Why then do we do this in classroom? I am afraid that the answer is time and pressure.

Teachers have quite a grind throughout the school year. They have high expectations from themselves and administrators. They have students in their class that range from low to high levels of achievement. They only have so much time to grade and deliver instruction, while also teaching them all of the content specific skills outlined in state standards. These are all very challenging obstacles to overcome. However, we must make the transition and there are some easily implementable strategies to do so.

As educators we should focus on grading and providing feedback throughout the process. Not every point value added into the grade book has to be given in the traditional sense. What if we stopped in the middle of working on an essay to see how well we are doing as a class? What if the teacher sat with each student and provided advice to them that is specific to their level and topic? And what if we gave them points for working with us on editing? What is we stopped in the middle of our math work to do some group problems? What if we gave points for this process? Why don't we have students write goals for projects and work to achieve these goals through their project work and guess what...give them points for that too!

These are very general ideas but they are all conducive to the approach that focuses on the process. We should be creating check points and safety nets for our students. There are so many students who line up for the start but never get their engine started because they don't know how to get to the finish line. Each day, teachers leave students like this behind because they skipped the most important aspect of learning...the process. We have to give feedback, support, and advice to our student throughout the process. As a result, the next time they go through the process, they will be better. Somewhere along the way we started thinking that assigning and grading was our most important function as a teacher when in reality it is the least important. Focusing on the process helps to improve gifted and struggling students because it provides the opportunity to see where they can improve no matter what level they may be. Because lets face it, giving a gifted student an A over and over does not really teach them how to become even more successful. It teaches them to do what they must to receive another A.

We have all gone through failures and successes in our lifetime. However, we have learned from both because of the process. Success can't be repeated without understanding the process to do so. We have to teach our students how to struggle and overcome on their way to success. If we do not go on the journey with them, many will be lost. However, if we hike with them through the mountains, they will see the Machu Picchu at the end. We are in the business of teaching students, not grading them. Leading is Teaching.

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