“A vision without a plan is just a dream. A plan without a vision is just drudgery.

But a vision with a plan can change the world.”

– Old Proverb


It’s testing season.  I know because it always brings out teachers’ angst. I showed up recently for a coaching session with an elementary school team doing some inquiry around culturally responsive teaching.  I arrived early and walked into the middle of an animated conversation about the Common Core practice assessment. They’d just spent the morning giving it to the students but also decided to take the test themselves.  “These tests are too hard for our kids.”  “This isn’t fair to them.”  “It is asking them to do things they don’t know how to do.”

They were concerned that the test would intimidate and demotivate the largely Latino and African American student population.

I listened for a few more minutes.  Finally I asked them to think about what they are saying about students’ capacities and capabilities.  One teacher stopped. “Well, we have high expectations for our students.” The others at the table nodded in agreement.

And I believe they do.  The problem with having high expectations is that high expectations alone don’t lead to student growth.

Just saying you have high expectations or calling students “scholars” is useless without creating the practical opportunities for students to be challenged and stretched into new learner identities, academic mindsets, and intellective capacities.

This is what the Common Core Standards asks teachers to do – stretch students beyond their current capacity.  Grappling is good.  Productive struggle is the order of the day.  It is precisely this productive struggle that stimulates the brain to grow more dendrites and create new neural pathways that lead to more brain power to take on higher levels of work.  This is the only path to higher order thinking.

This requires teachers, especially those of us that aspire to be culturally responsive,  to practice what rock star teacher educator, Aida Walqui, author of Scaffolding  the Academic Success of Adolescent English Language Learners calls a pedagogy of promise.”

The pedagogy of promise is both a mindset and set of practices.  It means that you see the mighty oak in the student who is right now a struggling acorn.  You hold a proxy vision for what each student can become and organize instruction to help all students become what they aren’t yet.   When you practice teaching this way you give them time, space, and opportunities to grow into leaders of their own learning,

In the meantime, don’t worry about the tests.

How are you helping students embrace productive struggle?   What proxy vision are you holding for your students?  Leave a comment.