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Bottom-up Leadership Series Part II

Posted by gennamcfarland on April 16, 2010

This is the second post in a series about views on organizational leadership philosophies to drive social impact, written from a Millenial’s perspective.

A couple months ago, I joined the ranks of more than 35,000 other soon-to-be college graduates and applied to Teach for America.  And while I could use this space to rant about my tough-as-nails phone interview and the 10% chance I have of actually getting in, I want to share something much more related to the discussion we are trying to have here.  It just so turns out that, if TFA throws me no other bone besides this (one of the required readings they made me and thousands of others download and discuss), they have thrown me a bone indeed.

In his article, Rick Stiggins writes about a commonly talked-about alternative teaching technique, Assessment for Learning, that is bottom-up in practice.  After giving his piece a first-read through, I am convinced that this “alternative learnstyle” makes some serious sense.  The premise of the article is that traditional assessment techniques can, if they generate negative results, be detrimental to student confidence. This probably hits home for most anyone who has had trouble mastering a subject at first, and who has, after performing poorly on enough exams, given up hope.  But, as the article points out, to students in high-need districts that are already achieving at rates lower than students in wealthier districts, this lack of confidence can be even more detrimental, and put them even further behind.

The solution?  Bottom-up classroom leadership.  Stiggins stresses the importance of placing kids on the path to success by giving them say in the classroom.  In an English classroom, students would be encouraged to develop assignment rubrics, give feedback on each other’s work, and submit work when they feel it is ready.  In a math classroom, students would be encouraged to go back over exams, identify the reasons behind missed problems, solicit help from other students with similar issues, and if need be, re-take exams that were bombed the first time around.  The teacher’s role, Stiggins says, is to facilitate this process by giving his or her students clear directions and desired outcomes.  The idea is that, once students become self-aware enough to identify the gaps in their comprehension of subject content, collaboration among students and between students and teachers can get struggling, uncertain students back on a winning streak.  Student ownership of the learning process is critical to this success.

The kind of leadership that Stiggins talks about so obviously seems like it would be good for student grades and student confidence.  But don’t take my word for it.  Here are two articles that also advocate for this technique:

And for good measure, here’s one on creating a culture of service. If you’d like to serve your community and teach, the deadline for TFA might have passed, but opportunities are out there. Good luck!

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One Response to “Bottom-up Leadership Series Part II”

  1. Ben Sims said

    Hah I’m honestly the only comment to this awesome post!

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