What Works For My Kids

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

The New York Times’ Anna North recently asked me if I was a believer in learning styles, and I’m like, “No.” That’s not my fault, really. As a younger teacher, many of the veteran teachers told me the long list of initiatives that they’d seen come and go in education research, where “education research” is a pejorative, not a compliment. Multiple intelligences. Learning styles. Workshop model. Differentiation. The new math / everyday math. Now? Systems in place. Common Core. Data-driven instruction.

Every time an initiative comes out, we’re subjected to another professional development session where the person in front of us, administrator or book-hustler, stands in front of us, lauding the latest and greatest. We shift in our seats, prepared to get another set of gobbledygook splayed across our already bloodshot eyes. PowerPoint presentations with tiny letters and business clip art help make convincing arguments for why this specific pedagogical trick will work for our students this time for real, for real. Unconvinced of its efficacy, teachers hope this goes away, and, when it doesn’t the first few times, start to implement the language without trying it to fidelity.

Here, it’s easy to blame educators for not having the courage to try something that a random stranger came in with, akin to salesmen trying to develop a monorail in small towns. But teachers with experiences like this might not be so easily swayed, thus the resistance to anything new. Some might call it part of the anti-intellectual movement, but I believe it’s just a general resistance to the oscillating quality in professional development and the haphazard policies our districts espouse. Like, how many of these “movements” go by the wayside when a politician moves, foundation money dries up, or another non-profit comes up with a bigger and even better idea that’s totally researched-based?

You’d be right to say that, because policymakers don’t actually take education research seriously, it’s harder for us to take education research on the whole seriously (except those who confirm our biases), the education research that actually might make our students learn better gets lost in the shuffle. The words “sustainability,” “quality,” and “systems” come up so often in edu-jargon, but many education firms are in the business of moving statistics for their specific bias, and not for the benefit of schools writ large.

That’s a scary prospect for an educator who’s just trying to make sense of it all. Of course, the clash between researchers and practitioners is nothing new, but, like most of these boondoggles, it’s worth re-examining so we can get to some real work. The more years I accumulate in this profession, the more techniques I find useful from colleagues who aren’t in the education research field. If we want to see real movement on education-related research, maybe researchers and practitioners should sit at the same tables.

It’s pedagogy over everything. How do we have better conversations on what works?