Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

09.03.15What’s the Purpose?

I am reading Eric Kalenze‘s Education is Upside Down.  He observes: “It’s a vast overstatement to say that a single… institutional mission exists to guide [the] practices of American education.”

Reading that reminded me of a question we asked when hiring teachers for a school some years ago. We asked:

“We’d all like to do everything we can for all of our kids, but sometimes we have to choose.  If you had to choose between a) increasing your students’ skills and knowledge or b) increasing their self-esteem, which would you choose? Why?”

The results were interesting. Fewer than half of the people we interviewed (far fewer in fact) chose increasing skills and knowledge. They did not believe that teaching skills and knowledge was the core mission of school teachers, especially when presented with the far more alluring choice of boosting self-esteem.

I sometimes wondered if maybe some candidates thought it was a trick question and were saying “self-esteem” because it was so obvious that a teacher should choose increasing knowledge and skills and so that had to be wrong. But as I listened I to dispense with that theory.  Teaching candidates did not agree with us that, over all, student achievement was more important than self-esteem.

This takes me back to one of my reflections on the TNTP Mirage study.  It’s hard to develop teachers in schools in part because we don’t all agree about what we are trying to do.

Just a thought pod.  Back to the book.

2 Responses to “What’s the Purpose?”

  1. thom gething
    September 5, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Working in international education I think the alignment between core purpose and action is much easier. Most international schools work really hard on the mission or vision as core purpose and because they have more autonomy, like charter/free schools, they can actually get closer to matching aspiration with reality.

    My own experience with recruiting is that if you have a good sense of who you are as a school and offer enough of a decent salary then the key thing it fit. You need to think about whether somebody fits with the core purpose, whether they will fit with your current staff, in terms of experience, talents etc. and whether they will be able to adapt to what will, in most cases, be a new culture as they will essentially be immigrants. It isn’t an exact science and we do make mistakes, but if you can evaluate a teacher against “Purpose, People and Place” there is a better chance you’ll get a good teacher and they will be happy in their work.

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