On Saturday, I was on a mission. I was bound and determined to trim the shrubs that adorn the front of our house. This is an annual task, one that was skipped last year, and I was committed to making sure that didn’t happen again.
I approached the job with little to no plan. I just knew that I wanted the shrubbery to look better – it was overgrown and filled with the muck that accumulates over the winter months. I was part way through trimming the first shrub when I realized that I had jumped in a bit unprepared; it was at this same time that an analogy to teaching jumped into my head. It’s not a perfect analogy, but bear with me.
I had my trusty Black and Decker hedge trimmer – my main approach to Tier 1 instruction – and the needed extension cord connected to power – my source for evidence-based instruction. After trimming part of the first shrub – the first month of school, if you will – I got distracted by weeds growing nearby. I temporarily abandoned the trimming/instruction I had begun, powered by evidence-based instruction, to tend to something else – instruction that wasn’t based on evidence, but was easier than what I was doing – akin to jumping onto the internet to find quick teaching strategies or tools.
How many times have I begun a school year with a goal of making my students better – at least a year’s growth, but with little to no clear plan to accomplish that goal? Oh, I had name tags, locker labels, organized desks, beautiful posters on the wall, and maybe even a week or two worth of lesson plans, with a general idea of how the year would unfold. Rarely, if ever, had I looked at a scope and sequence (they weren’t used for the better part of my time in the classroom) or unpacked modules, units, or chunks of lessons so that I was crystal clear on specific learning goals and plans to meet them.
On I went to the next shrub – next month of school – approaching the trimming (instruction) with a bit more purpose, but still no clear plan for how I would work my way down the row of shrubbery – the rest of the school year. I was still relying on my trusty Black and Decker hedge trimmer – my main approach to Tier 1 instruction, with little to no thought about how I would tackle difficult shrubbery or instruction that didn’t result in high levels of learning. I was no where near the point of considering a Universal Design for Learning, a plan for meeting all learners’ needs through multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action & expression.
It was when I hit that third shrub, the prickly one, that I realized I needed to pause and develop a better plan. That third shrub was full of thorns – those difficult students, difficult situations, difficult weeks of the school year – and I realized I need to be much more intentional with my trimming – my instruction.
I knew that I would keep the Black and Decker hedge trimmer as my main approach, but would need to twist and turn in different ways to ensure that I was meeting the needs of all learners. The short (3-minute) video that follows is an EXCELLENT illustration of how to utilize Universal Design for Learning… and it uses a bowling analogy!
“In order to knock down the most pins with one shot he aims for the pins that are the hardest to hit… We are taught to teach the head pin, we are not taught to teach to the kids that are the furthest and the hardest to get to…” Here, the bowling and shrubbery analogies overlap: those prickly shrubs – those tough students, situations, etc. – need us to quit aiming for the head pin/the easier shrubs/the easier approaches to instruction. They need us to utilize evidence-based practices with intention, which benefits all learners.
And even when we have the best laid plans, filled with intention and evidence-based practice, storms can come along and halt progress. This is exactly what happened yesterday when I was about midway through trimming. I realized that I needed to exercise flexibility, use the interruption as an opportunity to adjust plans and refine instruction.
I was frustrated with the delay (two different bouts of rain resulted in a pause until today), but I was reminded that this is exactly what happens in the business of education. Just when we feel like we’ve established some momentum and are starting to see results, an unexpected obstacle gets thrown in the mix. So we adjust, buckle down, and get back to it. The adjustment I made resulted in a systematic approach to the job: I added more tools (evidence-based, of course!) and brought in my team: fellow colleagues and interventionists. We cannot do this job alone!
Tier 1 instruction with the Black and Decker hedge trimmer remained in place, aimed at meeting the needs of all students, while a thicker pair of gloves, shovels, hoes, a leaf blower, and a smaller clipper – Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction – were added to the mix. Instruction was delivered with the help of the team and by the end of the day – end of the school year – there was tremendous growth!
Throughout the process, we frequently stepped back to look at our progress – progress monitoring – and adjusted our approach – instruction – as needed. Bringing in the team meant that we needed to work collaboratively, focus on results, and use the data to drive our instruction. There were definitely times of conflict (hard to avoid with these three Kruse boys!), but we worked to come to consensus for the sake of the shrubs – our students and our school community, across the school year.
Mother’s Day did not deliver a gift of analogy writing to me 😉 but it did deliver the best help from the BEST team!