This ain’t my finest hour…
This tweet received immense scrutiny this week. A very good friend of mine even posted an article that served as a rebuttal to this tweet, claiming, “My job is not to entertain my students.” Knowing her, she does a great job entertaining her kids. She is masterful at weaving solid, rigorous instruction with advanced levels of engagement. Sadly, however, I think the author of the article she shared (and the horde of pissed off twitterers) missed Dr. Marzano’s point. I want to very gingerly address this tweet with my personal understanding of it.
First of all, yes: “Students’ attention and engagement are directly under the control of the classroom teacher.” I approach this with the caveat that circumstances outside of the classroom are excluded. Many teachers bemoaned things like home life, ADHD, and outside distractions that often get in the way of students’ attention. I will be the first one to agree. I taught for 5 years in a Title I school where I had elementary students pressured by gangs, misplaced by homelessness, and fed only while they were at school. These things are outside of the teacher’s circle of control. It would be ridiculous to think that a child would be able to operate with unwavering attention with these types of stresses haunting them. Does this mean that the teacher is powerless to reaching this child? No. Engagement is not just creating lessons that activate multiple modalities and bring forth learning through unconventional means–part of engagement is creating a classroom environment and culture that nurtures learners where they are and provides them with an outlet to express their feelings in order to maximize acquisition of knowledge. This is done through creating relationships with our students and doing just what many of these teachers so boldly shared: understanding their needs.
The second sentence of Dr. Marzano’s tweet is the kicker, and the place were I truly feel many teachers missed the mark: “There is no reason any student should be systematically bored, inattentive, or disengaged in any class at any grade level.” Keyword here being systematically. The New Oxford dictionary defines the word systematically as “according to a fixed plan or system; methodically”. So if we take away the distractions which are out of our control as teachers (mainly because we have built relationships and have a crystal clear understanding of our students’ needs) we are left with the time and space of the classroom. Here, teachers are the kings, queens, presidents, governors, mayors–they dictate what is shared and how it is delivered. This is done through a series of systems or a structure that is solely up to the teacher. There is even room, within a state or district mandated framework, for the teacher to develop his or her own flavor to season that instruction. This is not shaming teachers or pointing fingers at them–this is empowering them! The ability turn a lackluster science standard written by folks who haven’t been in a classroom in a number of years into a hands on laboratory experience with colorful bubbles, fizz, sparks, and pops belongs only to the teacher. I daresay the student that has come to school still climbing up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would find some enjoyment in this type of adventure; this would be the ultimate escape from her reality that seeks to divert her attention from school.
So I very humbly understand the shock that some teachers experienced when they opened up Twitter on Wednesday morning. “This man is saying that despite all the crap these kids have going on in their lives, I am solely responsible for whether they are paying attention or not in my classroom?” Breathe easy, teacher friend: the crap is not your battle, the classroom is. And you’ve got mad skills when it comes to making those concepts jump off pages and dance across your students’ desks.
So this was probably not Robert Marzano’s finest hour, but I was drinking the Kool-Aid for sure. I am confident that my colleagues are capable of captivating kids’ minds in the sacred spaces of their classrooms. There they have the ability to foster safe, caring relationships that will bring forth magic through sensational instruction that leaves no room for boredom, inattentiveness, or disengagement.