Where should we invest?

A district office representative pulls me aside before class and says, "Tommy, we're concerned with some of your pencil use."  

"Well, it's not really me that's using the pencils.  It's the students, so would you mind if I allowed them to be a part of this discussion?" 

"Well, we noticed that you have an hour of weekly drawing time. How do you justify it?" he asks with a smug grin.   

"I do.  I believe creativity is a valuable skill.  The district said so themselves just recently," I added.  

"We have worksheets designed for creativity. Besides, we're looking for problem solving creativity, not drawing." he adds.  

"Yes, but I have my students use writing to solve problems in PBLs and solve problems in math. They use the pencil and paper with their lab reports from science and I try and begin with inquiry . . . "

"We are concerned about the academic nature of using pencils in such a way. Our worksheets are designed with best practices in mind. They are scientifically proven to work. Would you trust a doctor who tried to insert blood instead of using leeches?"  

"It seems to me that you say you want creative and imaginative teachers.  You want us to think outside the box and then you get angry when we don't have students follow your rigid curriculum."  

"There's flexibility in it.  Read the Teacher Workbook.  Each lesson has at least three Extension Activities you can consider."  

"Can you tell me something honestly? In art class, do you give kids a canvas and paints and then tell them they have to only paint by number?  In PE do you hand kids a ball and tell them every child must play the same position?"  

"Look, we paid good money for Pencil Island and Jonestown Intervention.  We want to get our money's worth on the investment."  

As I leave, I fail to say what is going through my mind: What if we stopped investing in curriculum and started investing in our children's minds?


  1. "It seems to me that you say you want creative and imaginative teachers. You want us to think outside the box and then you get angry when we don't have students follow your rigid curriculum."

    The Catch 22 of education: calls for differentiated instruction and expectations for undifferentiated curriculum and summative assessment. 'Getting our money's worth' is not simply an institutional response. I'm afraid we teachers are guilty of this too. I think of the colleagues with their well developed master units trotted out year by year -- laminated teacher day plans we call them. Then too we have all fought a stubborn rear-guard action over some heavily-invested lesson disintegrating before our eyes.

  2. The difficulty is not getting people to agree that radical change is a good idea. The difficulty is in allowing people the space and giving them the support in overcoming the fear/resistance of putting the ideas into practice.

  3. Anonymous2:32:00 PM

    If every teacher were as devoted to their work as the most inspirational edu-ploggers, then worksheets would be obsolete. In truth, many teachers are just paying the bills, just like any profession. Lumping all teachers into one group works about as well as lumping all students together. A great administrator knows which teachers succeed with more freedom and which teachers should stick closely to the pre-planned curriculum.

    (As a side note, there are some ideas that businesses know that schools might consider; one is that it doesn't matter how you've spent resources to get where you are. The important thing is how to use the resources you have to move forward from your current point -- if the best way is to ditch your most expensive tools and use the cheaper classic tools, that's irrelevant. You should still go the best way!)

  4. Because education likes to throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak. After thirty-four years, I can't even count all of the so called "new programs" my county invested in only to have it disappear and a new one take its place.

    Great post!