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In the 20 years that I've spent as a teacher trainer, there is one question that has been asked more than any other. It goes something like this: “Yes, Dr. Armstrong, what you have to say is very interesting about these new teaching practices, but what does the research say about how this will raise academic achievement levels in students?” Naturally, I try to give them what they have asked for and cite various studies and experiments that I hope will placate their need for information. However, I get frustrated with the frequency of this question and, instead of regurgitating research data, I often ask them a question of my own: “How many of you went into the teaching profession because you wanted to boost test scores?” In the 20 years that I have been presenting seminars and workshops, not one teacher has ever raised his or her hand. Then I ask another question: “How many of you went into the teaching profession because you wanted to help kids reach their full potential?” Invariably, most of the teachers' hands go up.
This presents an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, teachers seem to be reluctant to adopt educational reforms unless they are assured that these changes will result in higher academic achievement results. Another way of putting this is that when push comes to shove, teachers engage in Academic Achievement Discourse. And yet, when asked a question that attempts to plumb the depths of their own belief systems about learning (“What led you to become a teacher in the first place?”), none of them indicate that improving hard data in academic achievement was the motivating force. Instead, teachers talk about “softer” things such as inspiring children, unlocking potential, nurturing the development of young lives, making a difference in the lives of students, and ensuring student success in life. Teachers are saying that these are the things that really matter as far as educating the next generation is concerned.