How do you teach what’s measured AND what matters?

Teacher friends, colleagues, and mentors, I need your insights. How do you teach what matters most, while making sure your students do well on those basic skills measured most, too?

I’ve heard the line from the architects of NCLB that tested skills are a floor, not a ceiling. The reality, though, is that it takes a lot longer to build that floor with kids who walk into school burdened by the challenges that poverty brings. Yet those kids need the ceiling and, beyond, the sky.

How do you give it to them?

New Year confession: I really, really care what other people think about me.

My dad is my role model, and he doesn’t suffer from this affliction. He doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks beyond a handful of people he respects—most of them immediate family—and his own code of honor and decency.

But I’ll never be like that. I want everyone to like me, from the overworked barista at Starbucks to every member of the School Board. I also want everyone to think I’m a good teacher.

The problem with that is simple, but its roots go deep: The metrics by which I’m evaluated leave out so much of what matters.

When it comes down to it, the hard data for my principal, fellow teachers, and other colleagues to consider consists of three numbers: my students’ scores on the Reading and Math MAP test and their level on the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Reading Assessment. The rest is anecdotal.

I’ve felt troubled over the past couple of months by all that I’m leaving out.

The six-year-olds I teach are not doing enough art. They’re not building enough skyscrapers, bridges, and parachutes out of straw, tape, and string. They’re not engaging in enough technology to create, communicate, and investigate. They don’t dig their fingers into play dough as often as they should.

Despite my convictions, much of the time in my classroom is devoted to those basic skills in reading, writing, and math that are easier to measure.

It’s easy to say that these skills are a floor, not a ceiling. The reality, though, is that it takes a lot longer to build that floor with kids who walk into school bearing the burdens that poverty brings. Yet these kids need the ceiling and, beyond, the sky.

How do you give it to them? (This is not a rhetorical question. I don’t have the answer.)

To every teacher, parent, and principal reading this, I need your thoughts.

How do you teach what matters most, while making sure your students do well on what’s measured, too?

Do you simply work harder, putting in the hours to teach both? Do you find ways to integrate those basic skills—retelling a story, measuring perimeter—with abilities like innovation, creativity, and collaboration?

Or do you focus all your time and energy on what you believe in your heart of hearts will matter most for your students’ success in life, knowing your reputation or evaluation may be less shiny as a result?

Deepest thanks in advance for your insights, commiseration, and advice.

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