What does it mean to Race to the Top?

Ensuring that students leave schools prepared for college and career is the ultimate goal of course, and as a Network Equivalent Team member in an urban school district, it was tempting to get the race to that top underway as quickly and painlessly as possible. It seems there is a lot of work to do over the next four years. The same is true in other districts, where I’m facilitating ELA curriculum design initiatives in alignment with the Common Core Learning Standards.

Last spring, it felt as if there was little time to lose in establishing a time line and carving out a list of activities. The following questions quickly rose to the surface of our pre-planning process though:

  • Will simply “getting the work done” make any real difference for kids?
  • Is it possible to translate Race to the TopĀ  in ways that actually nurture each teacher’s individual passions, increase job satisfaction, and enrich school culture?
  • What is the vision of the graduate that educators within this system hope to produce? What is the vision of the teacher they hope to be and the system they want to shape along the way? How can we strategically plan in ways that serve this greater vision?
  • Most importantly: where will we be five or ten years from now if we further the Race to the Top agenda without answers to those other questions first?

I think it was five years ago when I first heardSheryl Nussbaum Beach liken the influence of technology on the field of education to the process of building a plane while flying it. I appreciated the metaphor and remember nodding my head in agreement when Sheryl shared that video with the PLP team I was a part of at the time. It worked so well, in that particular context.

Like others, I’m not so sure that’s the metaphor I want to leverage for this initiative though. It may be an accurate reflection of how people are feeling, but as a facilitator, I know we need to work together to create very clear blueprints. We need to be crystal clear about why we are going where we are going, how we hope to get there, and what we think it will look like when we arrive. Also? Our top needs to reflect a greater vision than the one framing the Race to the Top initiative. A lot of other things can be overlooked or even lost in this race. We have to define what all of this truly means for us and what kinds of systems empower kids in the ways we need them to.

So, I had to begin this work by taking a breath and asking the questions above of myself and of all of the people I’ll be working with over the next four years. The answers that were produced left us starting in a far different place than I initially imagined. I’m hoping to share some of the processes and protocols I’ve used with teachers during the first phase of this work in the days and weeks to come, as well as what we’re learning along the way.





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