The Sweet Spot

Money buys freedom.

A collective nod rises and falls across the room as Kristi Mraz talks to a group of teachers about the harsh reality we live in, not just as educators, but as human beings.

She says the word money and my mind conjures images of the resource room back at school: Stacked floor to ceiling with basal readers, MONDO, Fundations, On Our Way to English, Phonics Lessons, Mondo Oral Language, Write from the Beginning, and many more.  In fact, for every resource you see, there are probably infinitely more tucked away in the closets and curricular crannies we don’t even know about.

So I raise my hand – as Kristi charges us to disrupt the system, a system that stocks our shelves even as we choose between a full-time social worker and a class size of 36 – and I try to put into words the worry that has been taking shape since I read “Building Curriculum,” chapter 4 of her Kids 1st from Day 1:

We know that one thing money buys is resources, which tend to push the system toward a more curriculum-driven approach.  And I hear things like, “we need to save teachers time” or “what about new or ineffective teachers?”…

Before I even turn my words into a question, she boards my train of thought.  First and foremost:

Teachers are capable.

Yes! Thank you!  When we buy resources to fix low-achieving schools – or any school for that matter – what we end up with is

A short-term fix to a long-term problem.

And it is a “system problem.”  Years of low achievement have been doctored by doling dollars for documents, prescriptions in the form of pages that push an approach to curriculum-based instruction, that eliminate the variability among classrooms, that profess to know our kids better than we do.   It’s a Band-aid on a larger wound.

Teaching is about the study of kids, and Kristi reminds us that we do not all enter our first years with deep understanding of content and child development.  These are the years – she recollects fondly –  when we were a “hot mess.” The reality is:

We need to know what to do tomorrow and what to do for all our tomorrows.

To achieve this balance, we can intentionally plan so that

Every PD has two parts: Curriculum and Content.

And I would add a third:  Chance.  An opportunity to learn the curriculum and the content through experiences with it ourselves.*

And nothing without student work.

No PLC, no PD, no team meeting, nothing without student samples to help us all gain a better understanding of the content through the lens of child development.

The curriculum can support this process:  the reason curriculum can predict that day three follows day two is because it is based on how children typically develop.  The funny thing is, even without curriculum, kids will likely go from X to Y to Z.  It comes down to a matter of how and why we get there.

I am privileged to work for a leader who gets this.  In response to questions during a recent round of interviews about the resources we use, she responded in a way that returned me to my resource-room reverie:

We have it all.  But we don’t subscribe to any one resource.  We use what we need to meet the needs of our kids.

In other words, we’ve found the sweet spot.  You may not be able to see it at first, because it’s not where you may think.  It’s not in the resource room or the closets or even in the most clandestine of curricular crannies.  It’s in our teachers.

And that is a freedom all its own, one that money can’t buy.

Thank you, Kristi Mraz, for sharing your thoughts and then leaving space for us to find ourselves in your work. 

*Thank you, Amy E ~ It was as if you read my mind when you confirmed the importance of the teacher-as-reader or -writer experience.  This is a post for another day…

Thank you also to Christine Hertz and (again to) Kristine Mraz for bringing Kids 1st From Day 1 into the world.  Thank you to our colleagues in Jeffco’s Curriculum and Instruction for getting their book into our hands and giving us a place to share our thinking at Teaching with Elevation. 

(All quotes above are from Kristi’s book talk with Jeffco educators on May 9, 2018, unless otherwise noted.)


One Comment Add yours

  1. bbutler627 says:

    LOVE! This post is perfection. It’s like you’ve brought me along to your PD here and said aloud the thoughts we both share! Your school leadership sounds like they are unshaken by every new buzz and curricula must have. God love them, and keep them in our charge, and seeing their students through honest eyes of their teachers and not just the numbers that come in standardized.

    Liked by 1 person

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