The Tyranny of BEST PRACTICES

imagesLeaders of educational organizations consistently tout BEST BRACTICES as a panacea. These magic bullets, taken from educational literature and high-powered think tanks, provide examples for everything from classroom management to curriculum delivery, from leadership style to student assessment and accountability, and from community involvement to staff professional development. We are often seduced by the easy implementation of these “It worked for them, so it’s gotta’ work for us” BEST PRACTICES.

I confess that I, too, have been caught up in the alluring nature of those tried and true practices that promise instant success. I have regularly peddled the thoughts and theories of others; especially those that I found exciting or at least workable in my classroom. And, I have been known to hawk my best practice attitudes and ideas to my principals and colleagues.

But as I think now about our hunger to emulate these BEST PRACTICES, I find myself questioning the truth of this evangelical approach to school reform. I am just beginning to understand the subtle tyranny inherent in easy adoption of what works elsewhere. Regardless of the amount of research data these BEST PRACTICES garner, when we adopt – wholesale – the thoughts and practices of others we abdicate our own creative competence. We marginalize our expertise. We abstain from making our school a distinctive place within a uniquely contextualized situation.

BEST PRACTICES…

  • inhibit deeper thinking about an idea or issue, and thereby promote mental indolence,
  • curtail professional curiosity and inhibit innovation around a difficult challenge,
  • prohibit novice teachers from seeing possibilities with their new eyes and believing in their creativity,
  • truncate our ability to contextualize teaching and learning to our local situation,
  • assume teachers and learners must adopt a subjective and passive role,
  • assume someone smarter has the ‘right’ answer and knows better than we do, and
  • have become the hand maiden of the one-size-fits-all standards/assessment movement.

If BEST PRACTICES are truly the best way to run our schools, why do BEST PRATICES change every quarter in every educational journal? Shouldn’t best practices, if they are indeed best practices, be able to stand the test of time?

Just askin.’

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