When we commit to improving, we often make adequate our priority. This makes sense, if you’ve been trained to look for deficits and mind the gap.
We align to standards, we measure the distance we must travel in order to meet them, and we craft interventions that help us bridge the gap.
This is honorable–even heroic–work in some circles.
The fact is that there are entire populations of people who would sacrifice a whole lot in order to be deemed adequate.
I’m thinking of the second graders who stare at their shoes and speak in mumbles as they struggle and ultimately fail to count to fifty aloud.
I’m thinking of one particular high school senior who buries the fact of her illiteracy behind a steady stream of behavioral suspensions. “I make sure my teachers want to pass me on,” she tells me, her voice laced with equal portions of bitterness and pride.
I’m thinking about the teacher who thanked me for helping him adopt a program despite the fact that I prefer a very different curriculum design approach. He told me that for the first time in thirty years, he feels like an effective reading teacher. He needed a program to get there. Quite a bit of evidence supports his perceptions as well, and it curbed my confirmation bias.
I’ve learned that adequate matters. Adequate satisfies. It’s also never enough.
So, why start there? Why make adequate our priority? Why not strive for suitable instead?
Adequate is made suitable when we wrap people’s passions, strengths, and needs around it.
Are your standards adequate, or are they suitable?
What about the curriculum you teach and your instructional approaches? What about your assessments?
Think about the relationships you strive to establish with your students, your colleagues, and your administrators.
Are those relationships adequate, or are they suitable?
What would you have to do in order to be satisfied by the answers you give to questions like these?
I’ve spent a lot of time ruminating on the Common Core war over the last several years and even more time grappling with the tension surrounding adopting, adapting, or designing curricula. Sometimes, these feel like incredibly polarizing issues, and they certainly can be.
In recent months, I’ve stopped listening to the arguments. I’ve stopped assuming a stance, and I’ve started paying attention instead. My studies are teaching me that the Common Core war may not really be about the pursuit of standards after all.
It might be about distinguishing adequate from suitable and our tendency to sacrifice one in our pursuit of the other.
Something else: I’m thinking that adequate is easier to define than suitable might be. It seems easier to pursue and easier to measure too. When we pursue adequate, it’s easier to feel confident about our progress.
Suitable is scarier. It puts context and people first, and both are messy and unpredictable.
Adequate puts us in control. Suitable challenges us to put learners in control.
That’s not so easy.
What do you think?
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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.