When It All Falls Down
As a child, I was taught to recite that age-old nursery rhyme, “London Bridge is Falling Down.” Of course, when you’re young, you never really take the time to ask why London Bridge is falling—nor do you realize that the rhyme really makes no sense. And as you get older, you may still find yourself asking why London Bridge fell down. Could it have been a fire? Natural disaster? Or could it have been as simple as a lack of support?
As educators, we are the bridges for our students when it comes to learning complex concepts, supporting them in transitioning successfully to the next grade, and even helping to make sure our they are prepared to make it to and through college. As teachers, we devote every school day to supporting our students’ academic and character development. But as as professionals, educators often do not receive the level of support they need—especially when it comes to taking risks in the classroom that could yield higher student achievement gains.
This summer, I had the opportunity to implement a pilot program in my classroom that I thought would change the summer school status quo in one of D.C.’s lowest-performing elementary schools. I gave my students choice over how they learned the content they struggled with during the regular school year and in how to track their mastery of subjects daily. I tailored instruction to fit each student’s needs, and I used technology strategically and deliberately for enrichment and remediation. A dream for teachers and students, right? Was I ever wrong!
With each passing day, my dream slowly became a nightmare. It wasn’t due to the students or a lack of deep planning and reflection. Just like London Bridge, there was no support—from my peers or from leadership.
With any learning environment, the support from colleagues is vital to our success in the classroom. Prior to students arriving for summer school, I invested a great deal of time in thinking, practicing, revising, and sharing my vision for how my blended and personalized design would function within the summer school curriculum. I reached out to several team members who were initially on board and had the same “let’s take risks” attitude. But after the first day, almost every system in my summer pilot that I had spent time planning failed, and there was little time or room to pivot. The lack of support was evident, and the sad reality is that no one really cared. As one of my support team members told me, “Just do your best with what you have. Everything was great in theory, but it’s just summer school. No cares. Just survive!”
So, based on my experience this summer, I’ve learned several lessons worth sharing:
1. Front-loaded planning is vital, but it does not ensure the successful implementation of your plans if you don’t have the right people on your team.
Build a team of individuals who are truly invested and relentless in their efforts to make changes in the lives of children. The team needs to agree on and believe in the potential of innovative ideas and support them wholeheartedly through feedback, setup, and reinforcement.
2. Recognize early that not everyone you ask can give you the full support you need.
However, when you identify those individuals, make sure you have a backup plan in place in case things fall through so you can get the support you need.
3. Know when your bridge is beginning to collapse, and be prepared to pivot quickly.
Staying the course when something is failing will only lead to failure for the children.
4. Make do with what you have.
Although many of the supports and resources that I thought I had in the beginning never came to pass, I was able to be creative with what I had. Those iterations were some of my greatest successes and yielded significant growth for scholars.
Yes indeed, London Bridge may have fallen, but the beauty in that strange nursery rhyme is that with each passing stanza, the bridge was always rebuilt. If we find ourselves in a London Bridge moment, always remember that it’s never fatal. Learn and rebuild.