Saturday, January 31, 2015

Keeping it Simple

My wife and I visited a local indoor winter Farmer’s Market today and among all of the fresh baked goods, crafts, honey and maple syrup offerings, winter vegetables, and hand-made woolen socks and sweaters, we spied a small, painted wooden sign that says:  “Live Simply.”  So instead of being tempted by the warm cinnamon and chocolate chip bread loafs and a very comfortable looking but expensive scarf, we quickly decided to buy the sign, and once we were home placed it prominently in the kitchen where we will see it first thing each morning.

I know I need a constant reminder to slow down, take it all in, relax, be patient, and try not to have it all or act like I can do it all (Spoiler alert:  I can’t.).  Live Simply is an important reminder for me as I go about an often harried and frenetic schedule trying to fit it all in or pursue things that, at the end of the day, really are not that important.

I think I need another sign in my office that says Learn Simply.  Unfortunately, many school administrators and policy makers have made things way too complicated for teachers and students.  We have promoted convoluted mandates, reforms, and testing that often interfere with the teacher-student relationship and have stymied and stunted learning, creativity, and joy in the classroom.  We are making students, teachers, and parents hyperventilate about cyber-bullying, college acceptances, and math leveling (Mom and Dad, spoiler alert:  It will be OK!).  Sometimes I think we just need to step back and take a deep breath before we continue on the dogged and never-ending Race to the Top. 

I am anxious about making sure our students leave high school with 21st Century skills, a solid Common Core, and acceptance to the very best university. Like every dutiful school superintendent, I scour the Globe rankings to see where we landed with PSAT, ACT, SAT, AP, MCAS, and soon PARCC assessments.  I worry about how it will be perceived by the Department of Education or Boston Magazine if too many of our teachers are rated Proficient—or worse, Exemplary! Have we invested in the right technology tools,  curriculum maps, and professional development?  Have we left anyone behind?

I need to relax.

I need to remember we have great students, superb teachers, and supportive parents who have high expectations for each other and for me, but they also want and expect an educational experience that will result in well-rounded and well-grounded young people—an education that emphasizes the critical and personal connection between teacher and learner.  One that allows a teacher to nurture students and not just analyze test data.  Oh, I know it is not that simple; there has to be a balance between the two, and I understand and respect that.  But with excessive educational mandates, layers of curriculum reforms, and year-round testing requirements, I need to remember to help our educators keep these tasks in perspective and strive to provide clarity and focus for the Needham Public Schools.  Our core values should always be our touchstone.

My job requires me to assist our principals and teachers to sift through the bureaucratic and legislative reform cacophony to ensure we are focused on what is truly important and what parents ultimately want their child to become: A good and decent person who has acquired basic foundational knowledge and skills, a curious mind, tolerant perspective, and a strong work ethic; someone who will contribute as a caring human being and engaged citizen in a world that craves those qualities. 

At the end of the day, it’s really not that complicated:  Live Simply.  Learn Simply.  In a tumultuous world and for our children’s sake, let’s commit ourselves to both.

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