Are We Focused on Looking Good or Being Great?

Our obsessive focus on testing and scores has narrowed the curriculum and, as an unintended consequence, pitted schools and educators again one another to look good instead of working together create the schools and experiences that are great at evolving to meeting the needs of the learners and communities they serve.

In his book, Future Driven, David Geurin highlights many important characteristics to create great schools that are critical for students to thrive in an evolving and unpredictable world. Although he shared many great stories and examples throughout the book, what really resonated with me was his openness about his evolution as a leader. He acknowledges that as a principal he was focused on looking good on the test and playing the numbers game. He shared that in order to look good, he had directed teachers to focus on test prep and targeting certain students who were in a range to getting passing scores rather than really focusing on what they all kids were learning, their social and emotional development and the skills they were developing that would serve them in life. He is not alone.

As he saw the error of his ways, he now argues:

Schools shouldn’t be focused on looking good. They should focus on being good. Actually, they should focus on being great. But being great is not about having a school with the highest test scores. Being great is showing kids and families how committed we are to kids and learning. Being great is investing in people. When we are doing all we can to help every child succeed, we are an excellent school. #FutureDriven

Although virtually every school’s vision and mission are focused on developing critical thinkers, problem solvers, and productive citizens, too often we fail to focus on those skills as the measure of success because they aren’t what is typically (or easily) measured.

It’s common to hear, “What gets measured gets done.” but what if we screw up what we are measuring? Doing well on a test shouldn’t be THE goal. Short term gratification can convince us that we are doing it right and meeting our goals but we aren’t focusing on the longer-term goal, improving the trajectory of students lives and impact on the greater community,  we might be missing the mark.

In an interesting conversation with my Uber driver, who was a salesman in a previous career, he shared that as a community member and a taxpayer he doesn’t care how students perform on a test but he does care what kind of citizens they are. He proposed that schools should be judged on metrics that reflect the type of citizens they produce. for example, “Do they contribute to the greater good? Do they pay taxes? Do they have a job? Do they solve problems and collaborate well with others?  Even though this might matter to many of us, the truth is that these things aren’t instantly measurable and it’s a long feedback loop, so instead, we have focused on the short term and what we can measure now.

In Good To Great, John Collins says, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.” We have a choice in schools today to maintain the status quo or to look at what we want for our students, communities, and our collective future.  To get where we want to be will require us to decide to do better to get there.



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