So I can guess what you're thinking, "WHAT does that have to do with teaching and learning?" I'm glad you asked. I think there are a few key lessons for us to remember as educators.
- Formative Assessment and Feedback are essential to success. After administering the standard procedure, the doctor didn't just assume that my mouth was properly numb (which could have had painful results). He conducted a formative assessment ("has your lip gone yet?"). Similarly, as teachers, even when we implement a research supported, best practice lesson, it is dangerous to assume it had the desired result. The best teachers make sure to measure their effectiveness along the way by using formative assessments (quick checks, think pair share, exit slips, quizzes, etc.)
- Assessment results should guide improvement. When the formative assessment showed that the initial procedure didn't work to his satisfaction, the doctor applied his training and experience to determine WHY it hadn't work and knew how to correct the error. This is also where great teachers separate themselves. After a lesson has been taught, do you know what to do if your students didn't learn it? We need to diagnose WHY the expected learning didn't occur, and then use that information and our training and experience to craft an alternative lesson to improve our results. If he simply administered a second shot in the same location as the first (more of the same), I'd only have an even more numb tongue and my teeth would still have had feeling when he drilled. OUCH! Remember, more of the same usually won't give you different results.
- Small changes can yield BIG results. In order to get my teeth properly numb, the doctor adjusted the location and angle of the shot by a miniscule amount, but it made all the difference. Likewise, minor changes in our instructional practice can yield major results. Too often schools fall into the trap of believing we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater when we hear "school improvement" or "educational change." We need to continually refine and update our practices, but don't get carried away. Unless it is totally broke, your practice might only need a tune-up, not a tear-down and rebuild.
- Results take time. This is the hardest lesson, especially in today's 24x7, always on, instant gratification society. We have been trained to think in election cycles, news cycles, and assessment cycles. We want immediate results. Unfortunately, most of the methods for getting such quick results are temporary fixes, or unethical. Human learning is a process, and changing instructional practices or curriculum takes time to fully implement. The best athletes take time to adjust to a new coach's playbook. The best doctors take time to become fluent with new surgical techniques. The best teachers need time to become fully adept at a new practice or the use of new curriculum. Plus, if the change is systemic, then the system has to grow into it. For example, in our district, back in 2010-11, we were able to implement at 4-year-old preschool program. Only last Spring did those first preschool students take a statewide assessment. Though that isn't the only measure we use, it is the one that gets publicized, and the "change" we implemented wasn't reflected in that public measure for 4 years. This is one example of many to which I could point where changes in curriculum don't show up immediately. Patience is a luxury we aren't always afforded today, but we do need to make sure our educators have time to fully embrace and become expert in their new techniquest. Initiative fatigue is a real thing.