Rigor vs. Relevance…Who Wins?

Rigor vs. Relevance...Who Wins?Daggett’s Presentation

A week ago I had the privilege of attending a full-day presentation by Bill Daggett. If you ever have the opportunity to work with him, do it! Highly recommended! Prior to the presentation I had heard so much about his ability to engage an audience. So, I was as interested in watching a world-class presenter do his thing as I was in the content that he would bring to the table. In both regards, he did not disappoint.

The Turnkey

A few days after Daggett’s presentation, I had about 20 minutes during a district leadership meeting to turnkey some of what I had learned to other administrators. The Rigor Relevance Framework served as the focal point for this time. However, rather than simply showing and explaining, I took an approach that resembled how I instructed when I was a fourth grade teacher.

I simply displayed a version of the framework (pictured) for all to see, and had participants pair up to answer and discuss the following questions:

  1. What is rigor?
  2. What is relevance?
  3. What’s more important?

When we came back together as a group to share out, the dialogue that ensued amongst administrators was impressive. After a few minutes I was able to sit back, keep quiet, and watch almost everyone willingly engage in a debate that pitted the importance of rigor against the importance of relevance.

Think for a second how the chosen “instructional approach” can familiarize adults (and students) with this content (or comparable content) through collaboration, debate, and inquiry. Meanwhile, the other extreme, as previously mentioned, would be to show, explain, and then probably just jump to the next topic without any meaningful dialogue or assessment of understanding.

My Thoughts

Like any good teacher, eventually I tried to move on without offering up my own opinion, even after I was prompted to do so by our High School Assistant Principal. However, after being provoked a second time by our Coordinator of Technology, I announced something to the following effect:

As a classroom teacher the rigor drove the relevance. I knew that if my students were consistently exposed to activities that were challenging and unique, they would be engaged and therefore the content would be relevant to them. In general, I led with inquiry and tried to let the rest take care of itself.

I should also mention that I followed up with the disclaimer that this approach is what I thought worked for my students and me, and that mileage may vary based on different contexts.

In the End

Regarding this post, what is worth noting is not so much the Rigor Relevance Framework (although, definitely look into it) but rather the idea that every instance of educator professional development is another opportunity to model best practice. Even a short, 20-minute turnkey during a district leadership meeting is not the exception. Never hesitate to blur the lines between the way you facilitate educator learning and how you believe learning should be promoted in the classroom.

What unique approaches have you taken when planning/facilitating professional development? Also, what experience do you have with the Rigor Relevance Framework?

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4 thoughts on “Rigor vs. Relevance…Who Wins?

  1. Having heard Bill Daggett speak on three occasions, two of which were at conferences (where he presented multiple sessions), I can attest the his awesome insight and outstanding presentation skills. One of my previous districts even contracted with, and joined, the Model Schools Network, which is part of ICLE. We worked with the organization to improve Rigor, Relevance and Relationships in our schools and classrooms. It was a good experience.
    As for the turnkey portion of your post, and title question, I find your perspective interesting. I’ve always approached instruction by putting relevance first to engage the class or audience. I guess I trusted the design of the rigor enough for the relevance to form organically. It would be a very interesting approach to try in a PD session. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • Thanks, Mike! At some point it would be great to pick your brain in regards to the Model Schools Network and any takeaways that you have had from experiencing Daggett’s presentations.

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