We Can’t Continue to Do More of the Same

testing Joe Brown Stop EducatingIf you do more of what you’re doing, you’ll get more of what yo u got.

Those of you who love order and structure will most certainly find today’s post a bit troubling. You may recall that a while back now I began an exploration of Clark Aldrich’s three types of learning with some thoughts on “how to be”. You can find that post here.  [link]

That series got interrupted by my realization that there were a few big questions that preceded the exploration of Aldrich’s three kinds of learning and our need to respond to them. That “ah ha” resulted in an exploration of the first question  in the “where the hell are we and where are we going?” series, Cut the red wire…but first

Well now I’m going to interrupt the interruption… and return for a bit to the “how to be” exploration. To me it seems increasingly clearer that the process of learning how to be in today’s world is a growing challenge for our young people. They are regularly confronted with situations that have life-long implications for bad choices and they are grappling with these choices at a time when our schools have been under significant pressure to focus more on the academic accomplishments of their students than on the delivery intentional opportunities to explore in a safe environment who and how they will be in the world.

A recent newsletter prompted me to return to the “how to be” question and share some of the highlights from the author’s thinking and research. As a result of some work we did together some time ago, I receive regular newsletters from Dr. Howie Knoff, the director of Project Achieve, federally funded, evidence-based school improvement program focusing on positive behavior support and RTI programming.

In this issue of his bi-monthly newsletter, Dr. Knoff addresses the need for intentionality in helping students develop the kinds of skills that are associated with both academic and life success, frequently termed “soft skills.”

I urge you to read Dr. Knoff’s complete text[link to Dr. Knoff’s newsletter]. . It is an excellent source of material in support of the idea that we must begin to be intentional and deliberate about providing learning opportunities for our children that help them make positive decisions about who they are and how they wish to be in the world.

Dr. Knoff begins his article (italics mine)…

“. . . with all of the attention on the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (or ESSA) and its focus on student engagement. . . or schools’ focus on disproportionality, trauma sensitivity, bullying, mindfulness, etc.–

We still need to recognize that:

If we do not teach students- – across their school-age years- – the interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills that they need to demonstrate. . .

 Why would we expect them to have them?”

He continues by offering what the majority of folks know to be true… that while the recent federal legislative efforts have highlighted the need for students to be college and career ready, the majority of focus has been driven by the decision to measure this readiness though the use of “a single, high stakes, standards-based test.”

Adding to the strength of his perspective and to the resources available to those of us who wish to move our schools and districts in this direction, Dr. Knoff shares recent research  here and here.

It highlights not only the personal benefits of participating in structured “soft skill” development programming, but also the academic gains demonstrated by those in such programs. He describes these skills as “Essential Skills” because they facilitate academic growth as well as the social-emotional dispositions and competencies necessary to function in the emerging team cultures of both post-secondary education and the work environment.

Of special note is that Dr. Knoff also terms these “Hard Skills” because our schools are not systematically and progressively offering such experiences to students, making the skills, competencies and dispositions harder to acquire for too many students.

In addition to the research that he shares, Dr. Knoff also offers what, to most, might be considered common sense connections between the “how to be” experiences and a more proactive response to persistent issues of student teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, hazing, and physical aggression. He notes that “Without essential interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution skills, and emotional coping skills, these problems are unlikely to diminish.”

Beyond the rationale for the design and inclusion of intentional and progressive learning experiences for children beginning in the earliest grades and continuing throughout their school experience, Dr. Knoff also offers detailed descriptions of the targeted skills along with concrete suggestions/recommendations for implementation. For anyone who has found resonance with the idea that helping our kids learn how to be in the world they are experiencing, Dr. Knoff’s work has much to offer. I highly recommend it as both a jumping off point as well as a tool for structuring conversations within your learning community about the why, what, and how of this most critical part of Aldrich’s “types of learning” model.

And, as always, a few questions for you reflection and comment:

What would you write as a tweet in response to this piece?

How have you dealt with this in your school/classroom?

If you found resonance in these pieces on “how to be”, what might be your next action step?

One thought on “We Can’t Continue to Do More of the Same

  1. Many thanks for highlighting how our dominant approach to doing school persists in consigning to self-discovery what enlightened schooling would offer as our common core of learning.

    Bernie Josefsberg


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