Harnessing the Best Practices in Education
Robert A. Southworth, Jr., Ed.D.
I grew up keeping the stats of my favorite basketball team, the 1969 New York Knicks. Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBuschere, Bill Bradley and Dick Barnett had a “best practice” strategy for winning—score more points by passing the ball to the open man (Debusschere, 1970). Fast forward to Coach Scott Davenport, whose well-worn copy of Dave Debusschere’s book, “The Open Man,” is always with him as he yells at his players to pass the ball. Davenport’s Bellarmine Knights—a college basketball team that scores 52.9% of the time—shot better than the Miami Heat and all other professional basketball teams last year.
“The mentality of everyone on the floor is, I may have a good shot, but there’s always a chance to get a better one for someone else,” the junior forward George Suggs said. Bellarmine shoots well because the players take high-percentage shots (Cacciola, 2015).
Hi, my name is Rob Southworth and I am passionate about good teaching and learning. When I was teaching the basic course on School Improvement at Teachers College Columbia University I told my students of the “best practices” to come out of education in America: They included the project method, grouping students, hands-on learning, achieving standards, student-centered learning, problem-solving, performance assessment, accountability, experiential learning, collaborative teaching, multiple intelligences, flipped classrooms and arts-integration. And like the best coaches in basketball today, I want our students to benefit from these best educational practices.
The major obstacle in American education today is that only one type of best practice is taught and emphasized in each classroom—the so called “school reform du jour.” This “one-size-fits-all” strategy is then uniformly implemented and results in a bell-curve of results—some students do well, some do not, and most are mired in the middle of the curve. Test scores for the last thirty years show no change to the average score.
New Teaching in New Environments
What if a classroom could be designed to accommodate the best practices and what if teachers could be taught to use such a set of best practices in this classroom? What if teachers collaborated to support student teams that produced worthwhile products that met high standards for accountability? What if old classrooms were retrofitted to support this and new classrooms propelled achievement?
Value Proposition: Integrating Intelligence
Picture this idealistic vision of student activity as the new “flow” of learning:
Student teams arrive in a hurry to be on time to the classroom. Teachers are ready to support, coach, encourage, but do not lead. Teams swarm together and re-combine as the needs of the project-like homework are determined. Self-directed tasking is developed so that skill-sets of the students are valued, deployed and harnessed. Students turn to teachers as intelligent resources, clarifyers and coaches. The classroom is filled with ipads, iphones, that interface and display on monitors. White boards capture artistic diagrams that are uploaded and refined for presentation. There are no chairs because no one sits for very long…lots of stools and work surfaces.
A student break is organized around cookies and milk because after all, this is just a fourth grade classroom. Think about what might be happening in the 11th grade class! Suddenly, after 65 minutes of work, the principal stops by and the classroom transforms into group presentations that are organized in separate sections of the room all of which are backed by displays of student work that students curate, much like knowing docents at our best museums. Even though they might be working on a science project, the use of arts enhances their ability to articulate and integrate their knowledge (Southworth, 2015).
A visitor to the school that day notices how well the students seem to integrate their knowledge of what they know and of what they don’t know. They are comfortable integrating all of the best practices of the best schools. They have a flow to their use of language, to how their ideas weave in and out with other people’s ideas . They seem confident to apply their learning in new areas and they love taking questions from their visitors. They are really good at integrating their intelligences.
Need: Intelligent Classrooms
There is a need all over America for collaborative teaching, integrating learning and intelligent classrooms. The need for modular classrooms that can transform their shapes, their seating, their displays, their lighting in two or three minutes to support new configurations for student learning is well known. But we are stuck with four walls, fixed lighting, thirty chairs, four computers, one black board and no tables. Student should be able to point their device at a monitor and have that monitor reflect the screen on their hand-held device.
Need: Collaborative Teaching
Throughout America, we still task one teacher with one classroom when what we really need is collaborating teaching. We need multiple teachers to float back and forth between classrooms, jumping in to solve, listen and encourage. These collaborating teachers need to model the team-work that we ask students to do. Teachers have different strengths and they need to deploy those strengths in intelligent ways so that the flow of learning, the way in which learning is integrated, becomes exciting, engaging and enlightening.
Need: Integrating Learning Data
With approximately eight days of formal State testing and many more parts of days taken up by course testing, quizzes, etc, we need to integrate assessment data into regular classroom activities. This integrated data can be uploaded in real time for teachers, principals and parents to see. Instead of stopping to take inventory, like factory model businesses of yesteryear, we need to continuously collect, refine, analyze and make transparent all of the data that could really begin to reveal student progress. Snapshots are incomplete data.
Need: Retrofit or New
Current classrooms can be retrofitted and plugged in. Current teachers can be trained to professionally collaborate in constructing engaging and fun curriculums and students can be supported in taking charge of their own learning. Along the way, new classrooms could be developed in a lab setting where all of the best practices could be integrated and tested. Finally, new classrooms could be delivered in a more economical way by combining new teaching and learning needs with brand new intelligent classrooms. These classrooms would be modular and could be placed in parking lots, unused spaces, disaster areas and anywhere a need for good teaching and learning can be met.
The best practices of education can be found in English classrooms, charter schools, sports fields and art studios. Outward Bound, now called Expeditionary Learning is teaching the Common Core in hundreds of classrooms around the country. Let’s bring our best practices together in every classroom so that good teaching and learning can flourish. Let’s take what we know about passing basketballs and increasing our shooting percentage and apply that in every school so instead of a bell-curve of results we obtain high achievement for all students.
Cacciola, S. (2015). Pass to the Open Man! No not him! The Other One! New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/16/sports/ncaabasketball/good-passing-keeps-bellarmine-among-national-leaders-in-field-goal-percentage.html?_r=0
Debusschere, D. (1970). The Open Man. New York: Random House.
Southworth, J. R. A. (2015). Improving Student Achievement Through Arts Integration. Paper presented at the American Educaitonal Research Association, Chicago, IL.