Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Blizzard

Recently I heard a seasoned superintendent say he was ready to raise the white flag.  He had spent a full weekend at the office away from his family in order to dig out from under the weekly blizzard. By 11 am Monday, his desk was again a foot deep in the white stuff. I have written previously about how many principals seem similarly snowed under--some of it administrivia, much of it critical, all of it needing to be shoveled through yesterday. Unlike the other white stuff, this kind does not melt. I have little doubt that many administrators would like to burn much of it.

One superintendent at one desk in one district one winter Monday may not be reason to wonder if there is a paperwork version of "Snowmageddon" on the educational system horizon. On the other hand, this guy is one of the tough ones. Notoriously driven. Perhaps even an undiagnosed workaholic. The white flag?

Is anyone tracking this accumulating effect? Eight years ago, the federal government precipitated NCLB on our country. When it hit the ground in classrooms, students became covered in worksheets, test prep, and optical mark paper. It took a few years, but students began reporting the icy effect of that on their connection to school, their engagement, and their sense of the purpose of school. About five or six years ago, teachers started to tell us they were overwhelmed with their workload. That they were drifting away from real learning and depth of understanding in order to plow through curriculum. "Accountabilty" had the same affect as "sleet and snow predicted." About three years ago, I started to notice that principals were neck deep in district and state mandated files, faxes, and forms.  Now a hard working, bring-it-on district deputy is half seriously saying it might be time to put down the shovel and let the flakes have their way.  Not retire; just stop battling the elements.

This forecast might be easier to make than the weather: When Race to the Top hits for real, state DOE's will be buried in accountability and regulation. It is only a matter of time before the avalanche overtakes the Capitol itself. There is a solution. It involves attention to changing school climate as a way to improve students' aspirations. School systems and those who work in them will inevitably have "snow days." Whether they cause a complete shut down of students, staff, and administrators is not inevitable.

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