Sound of Music Teaching: A Thing of the Past

ImageA few days ago I had the opportunity to help our local law enforcement community practice for the unthinkable: an active shooter in our schools.  Officers from our local police departments (Nordonia is made up of five distinct municipalities, so we have law enforcement help from several sources) and the Metro SWAT team were on site at our high school to practice some drills.

My role was simple. I played a staff member. My job was to go into lock-down mode when a PA announcement said there was an active shooter in the building  (Remember, this was a training exercise for law enforcement, not for the schools.)

The officers went through several drills, stopping after each drill to debrief. It seemed to be time well spent for them. Several mentioned that they could see different ways they might improve their response and they were anxious to go back to their departments to engage in those discussions.

The most profound comment I heard came from one officer who said, “I think we need to focus more on the goal than the procedures.” In other words, the officers had a variety of protocols they were supposed to follow, but that may have slowed them down from reaching the ultimate goal of securing the scene and stopping the shooter.

Those of us in the education field have seen schools transform from a procedure focus to a goal focus over the years. When I was a classroom teacher more than twenty years ago, we focused on content, not outcomes. My “curriculum” was the text book, and my job was to get through as much of it as I could. We had no discussion about what we hoped students would accomplish by the end of the year; we just did what we could to get through the book.

Proficiency testing was in its infancy, and I know the subject matter I was teaching my ninth grade English students was different than what my colleague across the hall was teaching her ninth grade English students. We were each what I’ve heard someone once call “Sound of Music Teachers.” That is, we spent a lot of time teaching a few of our favorite things.

In the education field the term we use often is “backward design.” Backward design is deciding what students are to learn before choosing the instructional methods to get there. Researchers like Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins are experts in this philosophy and have done great work helping educators make this transition.

It only makes sense. When you are planning a trip, you know where you are going before you leave. And depending on where you are going, you might take a car or a boat or a plane or a train. You will pack differently for Florida than for Alaska, and you will pack differently for a weekend getaway than for a two week excursion.

As schools across the country make the transition to the Common Core State Standards, we need to keep in mind that before we start planning how we are going to get there, we must know exactly where it is we are going. When we know what we expect students to learn, then we can choose the proper materials and instructional strategies to help them get there. This takes a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of collaboration. But to me, it is so much better than where we were when I started twenty years ago.


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