Does "All" Really Mean All?
I have had the privilege of working with staff in numerous schools and districts who are doing incredible work in professional learning communities with the hope of improving outcomes for all of their students. At times, however, they are focusing on strategies to re-energize their efforts because their results have plateaued or “hit a brick wall.” Their data has stalled, they are not seeing the improvement they hoped for, and they have become frustrated.
These staff members are often frustrated because they first worked to restructure their school day to build in collaborative time for teams to meet. Once that was in place, they engaged in collective inquiry to understand exactly what they should be doing during this embedded time. As a result, they turned their attention toward ensuring a guaranteed and viable curriculum by clearly answering the question “What is it we expect our students to learn?” All of this is very powerful and essential work—so what gives?
A closer examination of data reveals that very little progress has been made toward closing the gap for some of their students who are most at risk. Although some increases in student achievement have been seen for general education students, very little improvement has been noted amongst, for instance, special education students.
This leads to an examination of structures and practices. While what I often discover is not true for all, it is true for many.
The reality is that often grade-level and content-area teams are meeting on a regular basis to gain clarity about which standards and targets are most essential and what mastery of them looks like. In high-performing teams, this leads to discussions about student data and instructional practices. Where are special educators during these crucial conversations? It is all too common that they are updating progress toward goals and objectives, preparing IEPs, and attending to other procedural safeguards—despite the fact that many of these teachers are responsible for delivering core content to special-education-eligible students on a daily basis. In fact, these teachers may not have even been at the table participating in the conversations that led to the identification of essential outcomes. And when general educators were receiving critical professional development supporting them in teaching these targets, special educators were nowhere to be found.
When the teachers who deliver instruction in core content areas are not at the table when the deepest adult learning occurs and are then left out of the collaborative team structure, one has to ask: does “all” really mean all? If so, it is time to rethink the relationship between general and special educators. If we don’t, expecting to make significant progress toward closing the gap and ensuring high levels of learning for all will remain elusive.