August 2, 2013

Top Five Reasons Why I Hate the Word "Program"

For all of us that live in the education world, even for newer educators like me, it seems that there is always some bigger and better "program" that comes in that we try out for behavior or curriculum that is going to be a magic fix for students and staff.  Below are the top five reasons that I hate the word program.

1.  Program implies a quick fix.

When a new program comes into schools it is believed that if you do this exact program, all of the troubles of the world will be gone.  If it is a behavior program, your top behavior issues from the most troubling students will automatically be solved.  If it is an academic program, all of your students will all of a sudden magically know how to read and write or be able to do math without struggle.  Reality is there is not quick fix in education, and most "programs" will work for a large percentage of students.  However, there will always be that percentage of kids where the program will not work, and then what?  A lot of times at that point we pull into thin air and grab whatever we think could possibly work, even though it may not compliment the program that we're working with.  I believe it's important that we align with our universal instruction and make something connect for our struggling students instead of making their day more disjointed than it already is.

2.  A program assumes that there is a specific way all students learn.

Sure there are many programs that will give options for advanced students and options for struggling students, but even then we're assuming that there are three possibilities for how to approach a teaching concept.  Teaching in a program is limiting, and it takes away the view a teacher should have on each individual student in his/her classroom.  Many times, a teacher can say that he/she differentiates learning in his/her classroom, but to truly make decisions for each student day in and day out is something that a program cannot offer teachers or their students.

3.  A program implies a way of teaching specific curriculum not a way of teaching.

In order for a teacher to believe in what they're teaching it must be intrinsic.  The best teachers are those who love the art of TEACHING.  Teaching requires deep beliefs of how students learn and the knowledge to skillfully use those instructional techniques to deliver the information that students need.  Programs will tell teachers what to do and say each day, what materials they need, etc.  Teachers focus on the content of what they're teaching and forget what it is like to actually explore the art of teaching.  There are many teachers who would rather have a day-by-day guide of exactly what to do; it definitely makes teaching and decision-making surrounding what and when to teach concepts much easier.  However, at that point (when teachers would rather have a set program) we say that our careers could pretty much be done by a robot versus a skilled professional who can decide what students need and when.

4.  Eventually, there will always be a better program.

It doesn't take being in the education field very long before you hear about the "wheel" and how everything always comes back around again, everything will always get taken away, never get comfortable with anything because it will change, etc., etc., etc.  Yes, after teaching/coaching for five years, I agree that there will always be a better "program" or teaching fad out there that everyone flocks to and gets obsessed over before moving onto the next one.  One thing I hate is negativity surrounding educational shifts, research, and change.  I NEVER NEVER, and I repeat NEVER want to be one of those people who complain, cry, kick, and scream because my district asks me to make shifts to better student learning.  We have all worked with that person, and let's be honest, it's just not a good time.  However, I've also worked with that person who is nearing retirement and who is constantly hungry for new learning and willing to make whatever shifts needed to better student learning in her classroom.  It took me about a year into teaching to realize that when I was 30 years into my teaching profession, I was going to be like her.  So how do we, in education, prevent the negative and fearful attitude surrounding change?  I think it's quite simple.  We shouldn't have programs, we should have ways of teaching that reflect best teaching practices.  While doing this, we should be constantly learning, having professional development, participating in PLC's, and engaging in constant reflection with ourselves on how to be better.  We should always be changing and adjusting to new understandings to better students learning.  However, when we change "programs" we seem to have the attitude that we are throwing away an old program for a new program and starting over, erasing what we've learned about teaching and student learning and causing negative attitudes.

5.  Programs don't encourage reflective teacher practice.

Continuing to piggy back off of number 4, programs do not encourage teachers to take any personal responsibility for their teaching.  They are following a program and doing what it says to do.  They are not engaging in day-to-day decision making about what to teach whole-class, small group, and individual students based on student need, data from assessments and classroom observations, etc.  When teachers have to make these important decisions on a daily basis, they are focused on student learning and take pride in what they select to teach their students.  When something doesn't work it's not the program's fault, it's an opportunity to personally reflect on what went well and what could have gone better in our teaching, have professional, honest conversations with colleagues, and move forward.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say if teachers do not take responsibility for student learning, we will never see the shifts we need to see in students no matter how great the "program" is.

So what do I believe?

I believe districts should invest in consistent, frequent professional development and coaching models to grow teachers and empower them as skilled educators who know their craft inside and out.  In the language arts world, districts should provide teachers the professional development to understand the reading and writing process so that teachers are able to skillfully work with the diverse groups of students who will be in their classroom each year.  I believe in consistent teaching frameworks throughout an entire district.  In my opinion, there is a huge difference between a teaching framework and a program.  A teaching framework gives instructional best practices (such as reading workshop, writing workshop, guided reading, guided writing, word study, etc.), but allows teachers to decide what content needs to be taught through using these instructional frameworks.  To teach this way is NOT easy, and teaching frameworks must be implemented with consistency and fidelity across districts in order for a K-12 approach to be effective.  Also, it takes teacher collaboration, support from instruction coaches, principal support and pressure, and administrative support from the superintendent, curriculum director, and pupil services director to make it happen.  The universal instruction of a teaching framework has to be delivered in classrooms by  teachers who are confident in their craft and understand how students learn.  They understand what all students, some students, and individual students need and when.  {This can never be perfect, but it can be attempted.}  Also, interventions for students that are not making the progress they need at the universal level must align with what is going on at the universal level.  They should be an extra dose of what students need, something they can connect to from the classroom.  So this is my perfect world of teaching frameworks versus teaching programs.

I thought this cute Pinterest e-card was appropriate for this post :).

I hope everyone enjoys their weekend, I'm off to get ready for a mud run that I'm doing with all of my hometown friends this evening-can't wait! :)  I'll post pictures of it this weekend!



  1. This post really resonated with me. I've been working on setting up my reading small groups for this upcoming year. I've made a huge switch in grades (Kindergarten to 7th), so I needed a little guidance. As I was researching, I kept finding programs and curriculums that all sounded great, but I found myself wondering, "What about all the students that don't fit into this group?" Students don't pass some test or assessment and then magically get moved into the next category of reader. Good teaching is what they need ... not good tests and programs.

    1. Hi Courtney,

      You have definitely made a huge shift in grades! I hope that you love middle school-I personally think it's awesome. You're definitely right to focus on strong instruction practices to improve student learning! Obviously in every school you will have common assessments that can be helpful and programs to use, but they should not be the foundation. That needs to come from something deeper! Thanks for the comment to this post! :)


  2. I love your perspective in this post. It's also worth noting that the programs don't always evolve in a timely manner. In one of my previous school districts (considered a top district in the state), they're on a 10 year cycle. Do you know how much changes within those 10 years?! It's no wonder no one used the program we had!!!

    1. That is so true as well! No, everything takes time to develop and work, that's for sure!

  3. Kasey, I agree wholeheartedly. I teach in a school that consistently scores in the top 5-10% in our county. We had frameworks in place and worked hard to earn those scores. When a new superintendent came in, she obviously didn't have faith we could make the shift to CCSS. It nearly broke my heart when she bought into a scripted program and told us to teach it to fidelity. I wrote a little "parable" about it in one of my first blogposts:
    I wish everyone shared your feelings about programs. Thanks for a great post!

    1. Hi Darlene,

      Thank you so much for your comment! It's sad when a new person comes in and makes a drastic change before getting to know the staff, how they teach, and analyzing data-especially when your school scores so high! Why mess with a good thing? I will definitely go check out your blog post on it!


  4. So true! I feel for you Darlene. I grew up in an affluent community that was considered one of the best schools in the nation when they rank high school programs. The teachers that I had taught students to think and had a passion for learning. I know for a fact that they didn't use any one type of program. I'm not saying all programs are bad, I think for some teachers they probably are really helpful. But for those of us who have a passion for teaching and want to instill that in our students we don't really need to follow one set program.

  5. "Programs" are only as good as the teacher who manipulates them for her/his students. I could rant for hours about this subject, but I will not because I am preaching to the choir:).


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