How Teachers Can Solve the Wicked Achievement Gap

Our schools are products of many opposing perspectives. To blame teachers for the huge achievement gap is sticking to one but missing the others. The problem isn’t as easy to solve as most of us think it is.

This is a wicked problem.

I was a school teacher for nine years. I train teachers nowadays. When you listen long enough, you’ll understand how different their way of thinking to yours.

There are those who think that few students are naturally intelligent and many area slow learners. No matter how hard they try, the slow learners will fail to understand… and will fail any test. It is not right to blame them for they have already done everything they could. They didn’t cause the huge achievement gap. The powers that be have unreachable and unrealistic expectations.

There are those who think they do not have enough teaching resources. Packing 80 students in a classroom meant for 30 isn’t the best way to bridge the gap. Students do not have textbooks and teachers have to buy their own chalk, manila paper, and pentel pen out of their pockets. Sometimes, they have to buy food for students who don’t have anything they can’t buy even a piece of bread. It is not right to blame these teachers for that huge achievement gap. Poverty created the gap and unless you solve poverty, the gap will only get wider by the day.

There are those who think they are giving their best but other teachers aren’t. A month ago, I interviewed a school head who confessed that she’s sick and tired of old teachers who resisted any kind of change she proposed. She said these teachers did not welcome new strategies and techniques. They questioned new policies. But she couldn’t do anything about them. These old teachers are master teachers. They have security of tenure. She said that these master teachers have caused the transfer of the previous school heads to other schools. You cannot bridge the huge achievement gap when master teachers want the same-old same-old ways. And when the school head cannot engage them in courageous conversations.

Unfortunately, this wicked problem cannot be solved by leaders who hold hammers and who are always read strike this problem like a nail.

They want quick solutions. Or at least, the popular solutions. The Department of Education purchased and implemented many solutions from providers who called the same hammer by different names or acronyms. Acronyms without meanings and can’t move a cat’s hair.

Unfortunately, a speaker like me may contribute more to the problem every time we assume that the solution is training or motivational speaking. Speaking without understanding is a dangerous thing.

Be an adaptive leader. Observe first. Seek to understand. Consider many sides to the story. Find not just the best solutions but the best combination of solutions. Make better change happen.