As Richard DuFour reminds us, “The fundamental purpose of school is learning, not teaching (DuFour et al., 2004, p. 2).” This perspective causes us to pause and reconsider the importance of what happens in a classroom between teacher and student. Focusing on learning and not just teaching also influences an educator’s viewpoint on evaluating student success or how to best manage a school system. There are many factors that influence learning in schools. Schools exist in a community and students exist in a family. When a student walks in the front door of the school, they bring with them many of those factors that influence their learning. There are many factors within a school that also influence learning, but for now let’s address one of the most important elements that happens in a classroom between teacher and student: core instruction.
When schools and districts refer to core instruction, they are referring to the use of different instructional practices to ensure all students can access the grade level curricula. Quality core instruction may fulfill the fundamental purpose of schools. An instructional practice is how information is delivered by an educator and how it is experienced by students. There are many recommendations on how to improve learning and improve the experience of students. Core instructional programs should be standards-based and research-based. They should be delivered with high-quality instructional materials and high leverage practices. A great resource for some of these skills can be found in a book by McLeskey et al., entitled High Leverage Practices for Inclusive Classrooms, 2nd Edition (2022). To reach all students, teachers should deliver material in a manner that is explicit and culturally responsive with flexible access points for all students. Some students may have gaps in their previous education and so temporary instructional scaffolding may be a necessary structure to maximize access to grade-level concepts and tasks.
Teachers have a lot of responsibility placed on them and have requirements and expectations from multiple sources. Because of this, teachers require support from district and school leaders to provide quality core instruction. It is essential that district and school leaders provide guidance on the selection and use of instructional tools. At the student level, teachers on problem-solving teams can use this guidance when addressing students’ Tier I needs. Additionally, the use of standardized instructional practice evaluation tools improves student engagement and access to learning opportunities. Schools and districts can also provide effective professional development and coaching to assist teachers with the high demands of their job.
Most of us started our own educational journeys in elementary, middle, and high schools. Most of us recall the teachers that had the most influence in our lives. Teachers really can make a difference and help keep the focus of students on learning.
DuFour, R., DuFour R., Eaker, R., & Karhanek, G. (2004). Whatever it takes: How professional learning communities respond when kids don’t learn. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.