Reject Ideologies and Make connections
Throughout our educational careers, two mistakes have been consistency made. More frustrating still, these two mistakes are relatively easy to avoid when egos are set aside and when the very real and very unique needs are different students are considered.
First, we must embrace the genius of AND and avoid the tyranny of OR (Collins, 2005). Ideological opinions can be productive elements of collaborative dialogues within the best systems of support for a student and for all students, but the diverse needs of students within a group, a classroom, a school, and a district will demand a more balanced approach. Rigid ideologies aren’t good for kids.
The following are critically important examples of how we too often settle for OR instead of designing AND solutions that will best meet the needs of all students:
- Access to core instruction OR targeted intervention (instead of access to core instruction AND targeted intervention
- Phonics-based approaches to teaching literacy OR whole language approaches to teaching literacy (instead of phonics-based approaches to teaching literacy AND whole language approaches to teaching literacy)
- Procedurally-based approaches to teaching mathematics OR conceptually-based approaches to teaching mathematics (instead of procedurally-based approaches to teaching mathematics AND conceptually-based approaches to teaching mathematics)
- Direct instruction pedagogies OR inquiry-based pedagogies (instead of direct instruction pedagogies AND inquiry-based pedagogies)
- Writer’s workshop environments OR structured scaffolds to producing writing (instead of writer’s workshop environments OR structured scaffolds to producing writing)
- Strategies to ensure students learning English (or the primary language of instruction) can positively and successfully learn all grade level and course content OR systematic and structured English language development based focused on forms and functions (instead of strategies to ensure students learning English (or the primary language of instruction) can positively and successfully learn all grade level and course content AND systematic and structured English language development based focused on forms and functions)
- Play-based Kindergarten OR high expectations for Kindergartener’s cognitively-based learning (instead of play-based Kindergarten AND high expectations for Kindergartener’s cognitively-based learning)
There are many examples of where strongly-held opinions about what worked for other students, or past students, or this group of students rule out a more balanced approach that leverages various research-based pedagogies, strategies, and practices on behalf of any and all student needs. We believe that AND not OR represents a foundation of a collaborative system of support. In fact, an OR approach violates a systemic approach; the system is doomed to be incomplete.
There exists a second frustrating habit that erodes any hopes of systematic and coordinated approaches to serving students. As noted elsewhere in this chapter, initiative fatigue – the condition in which a school and staff lose their way and struggle to implement any one effort well – plagues our schools. Frustratingly, we miss a powerful opportunity to powerfully enhance a collaborative system of support when we do not make connections between potentially effective sets of practices, that when introduced and implemented separately risk more than simply failing to deliver optimal results; the risk is that they will individually and spectacularly fail.
For example, we passionately believe that the following research-based initiatives and practices with which we have had success must be strategically combined within a collaborative system of supports that benefits students and the educators who serve them.
Simply viewing related practices as related, as in the diagram below, is not enough.
We must design and commit to implementing a system that coordinates these potentially interdependent and powerful practices. The solution represented by a collaborative system of support can be greater than the sum of its parts when we proactively and explicitly make connections – student outcomes will be dramatically improved and improvements will be expanded and sustained.