Finding the Answers Embedded in Our Own Work

Cech-n120x148The ASCD Annual Conference offers many things, but for me it is the opportunity to visit with educators from all over the world. In one of these interactions, the conversation revolved around a line from Mike Schmoker’s new book Focus. On page 17, Schmoker writes,

“It is critical that schools learn the lesson that ‘best practice’ in effective organizations is rarely new practice. On the contrary, the most effective actions are ‘well-known practices,’ with the extra dimension that they (are) reinforced and carried out reliably.”

For me, discussing this passage with colleagues provoked an “Aha!” moment: Perhaps we should look at the simplicity of doing what works well and do it with consistency, reinforcement, and diligence.

How many of us continue to look for the magic bullet to raise student learning and assessment scores? How many of us spend thousands of dollars on programs, technology, or professional development that occur over a very short time period with little follow-up or follow-through?

Maybe Schmoker’s idea of doing what works and doing it well is the magic bullet we need. Have we really looked at instruction to find what works and what does not? Have we consulted the literature to see which strategies are supported by research as being effective? Are we consistent with communicating expectations for the implementation of research-based, effective, instructional strategies? Do we effectively monitor the use of the identified strategies and hold everyone accountable for implementation? Do we celebrate the classrooms that model what is expected?

Perhaps something as simple and cost-effective as making the changes needed to answer these questions in the affirmative is the place to start.

Post submitted by teacher and 2011 ASCD Annual Conference Scholar Nancy Cech.


  1. Nancy,
    I love the Schmoker quote and your thoughts! I work with schools and assist with the writing and implementation of school improvement plans. Too often I see what you mentioned–schools looking for the magic bullet, whether it be a new program or a one-shot PD session. When student achievement remains stagnant, they are off to the next best thing. We all know that a solid curriculum delivered effectively across all classrooms is what makes the difference. How do we help schools see that they hold the magic in their classrooms…they just need to reinforce and celebrate it???

  2. I think part of the problem is that there are a lot of things that do work. This is a good problem to have, mind you, as it is what enables us to personalize learning for students. The mistake many schools and districts make (as Schmoker points out) is using a broad brush with these best practices. Schools which set numerous annual goals can only be scattered with human and fiscal resources. Why not identify two or three meaningful goals with the understanding that these may look different for every student depending upon which strategy is appropriate?

  3. Our district is struggling with this now. But, helping the powers that be “see the light” is a daunting challenge. Effective instruction is the key. How do we do that? Identify what works, provide the sustained professional development needed, monitor for implementation, and hold everyone accountable. Not rocket science, but still difficult to do.

  4. I love your thought of “magic is in the classroom”. The effective and nurturing teacher who has built honest relationships with his/her students is worth a million dollars to me. The magic exists within such a classroom.
    Recognizing and celebrating such classrooms is a start. Having others come and visit “the model classroom” is another. Clear expectation for teacher performance, clearly identified strategies to use in the classroom, and celebration of student learning also promotes the systemic change needed to heal our world of teaching and learning.

  5. some things much of the “sensible” comments on reform say is that we
    – try to do too much
    – do it too quickly to properly see it take root
    – switch to the next big thing
    I have been around enough to see this as a reoccurring pattern. There must be an educational graveyard of ideas once considered great but oversold, misunderstood, under implemented aand eventually discarded for something new.
    History repeats itself, André Malraux I think said, because we don’t get it right the first time.
    Sometimes as Nancy notes, you return to some old idea, use it better or modify it just a bit, and you get results. For example, I use Brown University’s Critical Friends Protocols with teacher and student teacher groups and just recently that what we have is really a dress rehearsal. This insights links to many things we all know at one level or another.
    If music performers rehearse and check the sound in the concert venue before the show, so should we and the students and teachers we work with.
    It’s all a form of practice: something Mike Schmoker would support.

  6. Schmoker’s point about initiatives being “reinforced and carried out reliably” resonated. I just had the pleasure of hearing Doug Reeves speak last week. Among many interesting and important points, one of the most memorable was about the importance of “deep implementation” of any initiative, no matter what it is. He cited research comparing the effectiveness of what he termed low, medium and high implementation. There was NO difference in the (dismal) effectiveness of low and medium implementation. You have to go deep to get results.

  7. Now there is a thought! You have to go deep to get results. If only we would follow the simplicity of doing something well (classroom instruction using best practices) and with fierce determination. Just think of what we could accomplish.


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