Strategy vs. Tactics and the ‘Shift’ to Common Core

Strategies in education are the large scale general plans used to achieve goals. Logistical examples are the length of day and the required seat time. Curricular examples are framework standards, vertical alignment, and lesson plans.

Tactics in education are the specific tools, techniques and actions that individuals use to accomplish certain strategies. Examples are lesson activities, assessments, classroom rules, and rewards/punishment.

Old paradigm-

With LEA and state goals being to have students score Proficient or Advanced on End-of-Course assessments and/or receive a high school diploma, the strategies have been devised with the idea that more is better – more time, more content, more assessment means more learning. Teachers have adjusted their classroom tactics to these types of strategies to cover a breadth content. These tactics include: haste, shortcuts, disregard of student interest, external reward for student cooperation, rote learning and relying upon outside curriculum developers that advertise a ‘ready-to-go’, ‘easy-to-teach’, one-size-fits-all’, ‘teacher-friendly’ package.


With student goals being to earn an ‘A’ or a high ACT score for college placement and career, strategies have been devised with the idea to trudge through school. Learning has become a ‘checklist’ of things to do before getting to their idle time or entertainment. Students have adjusted their tactics to fit a regimented, stop-and-go learning progression that includes learning what each teacher wants and then learning the most effortless way to achieve that. These tactics include: fact spewing, teacher pleasing, various levels of cheating, and sterilized responses to standardised questioning. Furthermore, students who do not know how to use these tactics use others, such as rebellion, retreat or indifference and they have no good strategy for future success.


New Paradigm-

National, state and LEA goals are changing. Now they are to create college and career ready students that are lifelong learners. Goals have changed because the world has changed. The information age has made the learning of facts difficult because the vast amount of information is increasing at an increasing rate. The adult worker of the future must be a thinker that knows how to react well to new information by questioning, categorizing, evaluating, valuing and prioritizing it so that it does not overwhelm. The strategy to achieve this is to make students independent and effective readers and writers so that they can understand and communicate up and down the alignment of multiple education and career paths. Teacher tactics are now being devised so that the teacher is no longer in the way of the student. Teachers are becoming models of independent learning and supporters of students through their struggle to gain this independence. One key tactic for this is developing a student’s ability to Actively Read Complex Text.



Teacher – The Artisan and Archer

The teacher is like the archer on the front line of the fight against societal woes. The teacher is like the artisan that builds his own arrows to be sharp, sturdy and well guided on their flight toward the mark.

King Solomon wrote in the 127th Psalm that children are like arrows and that a happy man has a quiver full of them. He also wrote that they would face our enemies at the gate. This simile infers that adults recognize and acknowledge the difficulties of life and strive to prepare our children to meet them with wisdom and cunning, knowing that each generation has the capacity to make the world a better place and that they will continue a sort of engineered legacy for us all.

Our role in education is summarized in the Latin phrase: In loco parentis, which means ‘in place of the parent’. With teachers being such a large part of the daily lives of America’s youth, don’t we have a quiver full of arrows? Shouldn’t we be happy about the opportunities we have to shape the future? Let us explore the teacher as the Artisan who builds his own arrows and the Archer who determines their trajectories… their destinies.

The Arrowhead

In old western movies, when the cowboys or scouts would come across abandoned arrows, one of them would always name a tribe. They would look at the subtle design differences of the arrow to make this distinction. We know there are facts to support those scenes because there are displays of arrowheads and other artifacts in museums that archaeologists identify as belonging to certain tribes and time periods because of their distinct characteristics.

The same is true for schools and, especially, teachers. It is that certain expression of knowledge or use of phrase that instills a certain purpose in our students. That purpose may be for or against our intentions. Just as the certain differences is design caused arrows to have certain flight characteristics and point-of-impact strength, our students leave us with certain strengths and sometimes more weaknesses. These weaknesses come from the lack of craftsmanship and attention to detail.

The industrialized world we live in has evolved our minds to believe that all we have to do is create one die to make multiple copies of an ideal original. This works with the modern arrow and arrowhead as it is designed to penetrate game and targets. But, if we were to actually fight an intelligent enemy, the one weakness of such a design would be easily discovered and exploited and soon would have no effect. It is craftsmanship and unique design that makes a weapon hard to strategize against because no two projectiles will be the same; therefore, all of our students should be shaped according to their own strengths and weaknesses. It is in this way that teachers are Artisans who can see the sharp arrowhead that lies within the raw material and make precise cuts to ‘sharpen’ it with knowledge and ‘hone’ it with practice in preparation to make its mark on society.

The Arrow’s Shaft

The shaft of an arrow adds strength and durability to support the arrowhead. In antiquity these shafts were built from the straightest limbs and pieces of some parent plant that had sturdy and strong fiber characteristics.

The internal strength and durability of our future generations depends upon the character of those adults whose ‘roots’ fortify those branches and whose moral fiber strengthen the prodigy. Roots that feed too much of what the branches want will make them weak. Roots that deprive the branches of what they need will make them weak. The adults that guide the lives of youth are to be examples of strength and durability so that the armor of the enemy does not shatter the arrow. Our students must be able to face adversity with the internal fortitude that is exemplified by the adults they have observed. This adds weight and will to a purpose.

The Arrow’s Fletching

At the base of every arrow is its fletching. A fletch is a feather that works in accord with two or three others to cause the arrow to spin. This spinning keeps it on its course so that it is not influenced by prevailing winds. So, fletching is the unified effort to keep an arrow well guided.

Each student has more than one teacher who influences his or her life. It is important that each teacher act as a fletch that works in conjunction with other teachers to keep the arrow on its straight path. And, that path is determined by both the archer and the arrow. If the arrow is balanced it will fly true. The balance occurs when the teacher attends to the students best interest with true fidelity. Our students need to be guided, not only to a career, but to a lifelong purpose. A purpose that surpasses a monetary goal. A purpose to serve and to become craftsmen themselves.

The Target

Each generation exponentially exposes the attitude of the previous. If our attitude is selfless and geared toward the fortitude of our children, then our enemy will be vanquished. So, who is our enemy?

Our enemy is ignorance and despair. Each year we release a volley of our craft work toward that mark but there are too few that are finding the target and the enemy is gaining strength. So, make your arrows sharper, pull further back the string, and aim higher at release because it is the time and condition of our release that determines if our arrows hit their mark.

The last stanza of the poem On Children, by Kahlil Gibran:

You are the bows from which your children

as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might

that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Teaching High School Students

Teaching High School Students

This is a recording of a session I did with a group of Secondary Tech Center teachers. These are college instructors that are asked to teach high school students and sometimes both have an incomplete understanding of each other with regard to expectations. During this session, I cover a few key aspects to earning cooperation and effort from high school students in a post-secondary setting.

A Teacher’s Workout

Weight lifters will ‘Max-out’ periodically to determine the limits of their body. Teachers should ‘Max-out’ their minds to keep them sharp and determine just how many positives they can accomplish within a school day.

Our mind is like a muscle. It must be stretched and exercised to maintain and increase its tone and fortitude. Research has shown this to be true and those of us in education should be the model of mental growth and exercise. As educators move along the timeline of their lives and careers, however, many of us will look to our years of experience as the well developed, all-purpose tool that serves to decrease our workload and make the days go by without having to expend the energy we did when we first began our careers. This attitude is what makes the twilight of a teaching career less than remarkable in many cases.

Early in my career I too looked forward to the day when my archived lesson plans would be a complete library of easy printing and copying… when my bulletin board materials became routine… and when I had all of my files organized so that everything I needed for my students was at an arm’s length or a click away. I am so glad that I had a nagging in the back of my mind that those goals were selfish and that I should look toward the future of my career as something novel and not routine.

Thanks to several good mentors, I view my experience as something to build on, not rest on. I discovered that we can become mental ‘couch potatoes’ if we do not exercise our minds and I want to extend this idea with an analogy.

 As a student I was involved in athletics, namely football and track. During the off-season our coach developed a semester’s worth of running and weight lifting with the goal of making each team member faster and stronger for better performances during the next season of games and meets.

We always began with a test to determine the maximum weight we could lift or time we could make. Our coach would then develop a regimen of running and weightlifting based upon our tests. We would work out at certain percentages of our ‘Max’, we called it, everyday. After a few weeks passed we would ‘Max-out’ or text again to see if our maximum weight, speed or endurance had increased. Nearly always, if I had stayed true to the regimen, my performance would go up.

So, the regimen was this:

    • Set the goal(s) to win or achieve for the upcoming year.
    • Test yourself to determine just how much you were capable of doing.
    • Work daily at a level close to your limit.
    • Test again (‘Max-out’) for an increase in performance.
    • Adjust your daily workout based upon the last test for increased performance.
Just like our bodies, our brains need to exert themselves to remain fit and functional.

Now, how does this apply to teachers in the classroom? Many of you have caught on that teachers should reconstruct themselves and their approach on a yearly basis. Even things that work well should be tweaked even if only to give the instructor the mental challenge of recreating something they deem as ‘good enough’.

Teachers, we are models of the behaviors our students will mimic. They know when we are putting forth a good effort or not. It shows in our attitude and the exuberance on our face. It also shows by our expectations of our students. If we will ‘Max-out’ periodically, then it is well within our rights to demand that our students ‘Max-out’ too and if we are actually ‘Maxing-out’ our students will know it.

Recreate your lessons and you recreate yourself. This may sound like scary work but it is actually refreshing and it becomes easier as your mind gets used to it just as your body shapes up as you exercise.

Here is a suggested regimen:

  • Create a visual and attainable goal for the teacher you want to be. (Do you want to be exciting, clever, fun, creative, intelligent, artistic, etc.? What do you want the lesson to look like? Working with these goals in mind will make every action that you take as an educator fit the overarching goal or goals you have established. My goal was to always make my lessons engaging. I did not hit that goal 100 percent of the time, but I noticed my lessons were all changing for the better.)
  • Test yourself. (Develop a lesson idea that incorporates some High Yield Strategies that students enjoy and that you think you will too. Make sure it’s far from anything you have attempted before. It may involve the use of technology or collaborative groups. It may be project or inquiry based. Find some advice or strategies online or attempt using something you observed in a workshop. Keep in mind that with ‘Maxing-out’ we all reach a point when we can no longer continue. That is our limit and it is the scary part because we are not sure how the people around us will perceive what we are doing and whether it is beneficial or not, especially the adults we work with. Do not freak-out when you reach that point – that is what this test was for!)
  • Once you have determine your ‘Max’ figure out a regimen for yourself to keep the improvement on an upward incline. (Try those strategies again in a week or a few days. Working out is important. Without it, no improvements will be made. Reflect on how your first try went. When did you reach the point of disaster or exhaustion? Once you have answered that question, determine when to stop so that does not happen again until you ‘Max’ yourself out again. Also, consider the causes and how you might diminish them next time.)
  • Test yourself, or ‘Max-out’, again. (It is best to use the same strategies again to determine true gain. Try to go further than before by using research proven extensions of the strategies. If attempted with fidelity, you should observe positive results from your students and, thus, positive results for you ‘Max’ performance in the classroom.
  • Increase your regimen.

Your students will gain in the classroom as you gain within yourself. Success breeds success and nothing teaches like failure followed by success. No one can exercise for you to improve your physical condition, so there is no training or workshop you can attend that will make you a better teacher without your dedication and perseverance to ‘Maxing-out’ periodically and testing yourself to see just what you are capable of.


A Heavy Burden

Sometimes we cannot lighten our load, but we can shift and rearrange it…

Teachers carry a heavy burden. Everyone in education carries a heavy burden. We are expected to carry the inabilities, needs, concerns, talents and futures of our pupils on our backs until they can stand on their own.

Too many teachers bear this burden completely and when they find opportunities to lighten it, many times they do not trust themselves or the method enough to try it, thus, trudging forward with the burden weighing down their days and wearing down their bodies.

This story may encourage readers to try new things – to shift the burden more toward their students, parents, fellow teachers and all of the other connections that exist to make the task of educating children less burdensome…

The summer after my first year of college was just as educational as my first year of classes. I spent those ten weeks working as a low-skilled laborer for construction company that specialized in concrete. I took part in many small jobs, some big jobs, but one in particular helps me to understand some of the difficulty I have in my career today as an educator.

The crew I was on was sent to our county seat to pour new sidewalks around the courthouse. A typical sidewalk job is easy – you just remove the first four or five inches of soil from the sidewalk path creating a furrow to pour the wet cement in, put frames alongside the edges of the furrow to keep the cement from running out, add some type of wire frame to hold the finished concrete together, have a cement truck back up to the site and let the pouring and finishing begin.

When we build momentum sometimes it's hard to make a needed changes to our load.

This job was a little different. The county judge did not want the cement trucks driving onto the courthouse yard and leaving tracks in the lawn. So, we were instructed to build a temporary sidewalk made from narrow 2×12’s that we happen to have with us. We were told to haul the wet cement in wheelbarrows from the truck to the sidewalk furrows. This trip was at least 25 yards or more.

Wet cement, with all other ingredients, weighs somewhere around 100 pounds per cubic foot. The wheelbarrows we were using had a seven cubic foot capacity. We were wheeling about 700 pounds of material 25 to 30 yards along a path that was twelve inches wide! We felt that was a bit too demanding, but we had no choice. We took to the task just as many teachers enter their classroom overwhelmed with the necessities of the day.

My first trip was a failure. I grabbed both handles of the wheelbarrow, lifted it up with my legs and back and began moving forward. My coworkers instructed me to move fast and build momentum saying that would make the trip easier. So after I raised the wheelbarrow I ran toward the end of the wooden sidewalk instead of carefully walking. Their method worked well for the first ten yards or so until I began to feel the right handle slipping from my grip. I did not want to stop and lose momentum so I quickly tried to re-grip the handle I was losing. The quick release of my grip caused a slight shift in the weight of the cement causing my wheelbarrow to veer to the right. With such a narrow path, it only took half a second for my wheel to go off the path and my entire load to spill out on the lawn.

After my reprimand from the crew boss and after I cleaned up my mess, I changed my approach a little. I put on a pair of gloves, got a deeper grip of my palms on the handles, shifted my hands further up the handles and took another trip. This time and every time after that, I was successful.

This story illustrates how teachers and other educational practitioners build such momentum within their work days. They carry a heavy load with all of the demands that comes with the job and once they figure out a process, good or bad, they are afraid to tweak it a little for the fear that all that they carry might ‘spill over’ just like my load of wet cement. So they burden themselves with teaching children in the way they are most comfortable and dealing with the heavy load of those who would seek to disrupt their momentum by being troublesome or disengaged. And when they feel themselves ‘slipping’, they are afraid to change anything because of the potential for failure.

The moral of the story is that change is necessary. You must ‘shift the load’ or become so over burdened that the load shifts you, meaning that all outcomes are negative for you and your students. For administrators, the same analogy can be made, only your pupils are the teachers that are burdened down with your momentum.

When we discover a new tool, method or device, we should try it. We may have a ‘spill’ but I learned that a spill can be cleaned up and that we are left with a new way of approaching a difficult task. New tools should center around ways that educators can ‘shift the load’ to other people. Not passing the duties on, but being a collaborator who can divide a task among peers; being a facilitator who can put the burden of learning on the learner; being a learner who is not afraid of using new technology to organize and deliver the content of the day; being a communicator who can make expectations clear to parents; and most of all, being a professional who can discern the most valuable tools and the most opportune times to use them.

In short, get a new grip!!

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