George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

How Do You Make Instructional Decisions?

January 21, 2013
Photo credit: sun dazed

Teachers: How often do you think something like, When I was a kid, I always did what my teachers told me to do and never questioned their authority, or I hated silent reading, or I loved learning about ancient Greece/making dioramas/participating in science fair? And do these reflections surface when you're making decisions about what to do in your classroom around instruction, management, or curriculum?

Perhaps, for example, you decide to replace the silent reading block that's supposed to happen right after lunch with a read-aloud time, and maybe you reflect that this is because you hated silent reading when you were a kid and you loved hearing your teacher read a novel to the class. Does this scenario resonate?

Teach-The-Way-We-Learned Pitfall

I'm going to guess that we've all been guilty of this kind of decision-making, especially when we were new to the classroom and there were one thousand decisions to make every day. We drew on what we knew and had experienced -- that was the data that drove our decisions. Sometimes our decisions may have yielded great results. Perhaps the kids did not learning about ancient Greece. And sometimes we might not have seen what we wanted to see, or what we hoped our students would learn.

Whenever I hear a teacher say, "When I was a kid...," I press pause in our conversation and then probe this decision-making point. Embedded within this kind of statement are often a lot of beliefs about kids, learning, instruction, and behavior. This kind of statement allows me to explore the assumptions and beliefs that a teacher might be bringing into the classroom about learning and her students. I want to make sure that we unpack those so that we can identify what kinds of data points they are using.

What we need to be reminded of is that what worked for us, individually as kids, may not necessarily work for the group of kids we're standing in front of right now. There are all kinds of reasons why that might be the case, including differences in our generations, race and ethnicity, economic status, backgrounds, gender, and so on. It's risky business to make decisions based on our own learning preferences, styles, and experiences.

Reflection Leads to Change

Usually when I "press pause" on a conversation with a teacher and ask her to reflect on what she "loved as a kid" and how that might, or might not work for her students now, the teacher is appreciative. I'm an instructional coach so I can engage in this conversation from a coaching stance: I'm here to help you think through your decisions, not castigate you. Teachers often appreciate the reminder to use a wide range of information to make decisions.

So what do we use instead? What kinds of data do you use to make decisions about classroom management, instructional strategies, and curriculum? I'm aware that in many schools teachers may have limited decision-making about some of these areas -- there might be mandated curriculum or school-wide management systems.

But there are still 950 decisions that are within a teacher's sphere of control to make every day. How do you make yours?

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