Friday, February 25, 2011

Angel in the Marble vs. Best Practices

Whoever created the phrase “best practice”? Is it the kind of comment that justifies all things? Was it created in the spirit of Shakespeare’s “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” (Loves Labour Lost, 1588)?

Is it possible that “best practice” is in the eye of the beholder?

According to Wikipedia (

“A best practice is a technique, method, process, activity, incentive, or reward which conventional wisdom regards as more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method, process, etc. when applied to a particular condition or circumstance. The idea is that with proper processes, checks, and testing, a desired outcome can be delivered with fewer problems and unforeseen complications. Best practices can also be defined as the most efficient (least amount of effort) and effective (best results) way of accomplishing a task, based on repeatable procedures that have proven themselves over time for large numbers of people.”

This definition implies there is a specific benchmark or standard that is desired. Well, who established the standard? A governing board of directors, such as the NYS Regents, or others?

At times we have heard from the non-research types, such as professional developer consultants that feel the need to justify their position, sometimes without any basis for doing so, that what they are selling our schools is a “best practice”. Well, I would challenge “according to whom? Where is the citation? Where is the research that evaluates and proves that a technique is truly best practice.

Well, instead of allowing others to decide the standards or the principles by which “best practice” should exist, allow us to consider how Michelangelo Buonaroti (1475-1564) established a benchmark for his work. It is said before he began to work on a block of marble for a sculptural depiction he would comment that he must release the “angel in the marble”. And, through hard work, effort and many chisel strokes, he created some of the most enduring works of art.

Talk about establishing “best practice”!

As 21st Century School leaders we need to stop using inhuman rationalizations such as “best practice” and begin individualizing learning for each and every child that truly releases the “angel in the marble”, and not blindly accept the notion that benchmark standards and esoteric data points and assessments will educate a human being. We need to encourage our teachers to meet the students where they are and tap the potential of their interest and motivation in order to provide a lifeline of creativity and innovation for that “angel in the marble”, and truly establish a new expectation for what best practice is.