by Erin Park Cohn, Senior Partner
There is a lot of hunger for identifying "best practices" in the field of education - a search for the silver bullet answer to the various challenges we face as we navigate the difficult task of designing learning experiences for our students. The hope is that if we just search hard enough, we will find definitive research that will tell us how to structure our schedule, or what the most age-appropriate advisory program looks like, or how to enforce our school's dress code. The search for "best practices" gives me pause, however, for several reasons:
1) The concept gives the false impression that there is a single, monolithic, correct way to do things. The human beings that make up our school communities are diverse, and as Todd Rose so adeptly shows in his book, The End of Average, there is no such thing as an "average" person. It follows that what might be best practice in working with one student or group of students might not be best practice for another group of students at all.
2) The concept can deter continued learning. For many in search of "best practices," the hope is that once said practices are found, we can simply employ them and stop wondering about or experimenting with our practice. It also externalizes the search: "best practices" are out there somewhere, having been discovered by an expert smarter than I am. If I adopt that frame of mind, I might miss important local data and observations that can help me continually refine my practice to meet the needs of the specific students I teach.
If looking into "best practices" means wondering, "How have others tackled this thorny problem in front of me, and what can I borrow or learn from them in my continual efforts to improve and grow?" then I'm all for it. Research is not useless, and much inspiration can be gained from others who have gone before us. But whether or not their practice can be declared "best" is questionable, I believe.
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