When I started this blog, I did so with the intent of committing to add at least one piece each week. Whoops!
And here I sit this morning watching the snow fall here in scenic Little Egg Harbor. It’s just a day after I was taking my sometimes daily walk to the inlet thinking this might be the year I actually put the boat back in the water earlier. Talk about change. I guess I could get cranky about missing my walk (that I might not have taken).
Like many aspects of our lives, I’ve managed to turn my walk into a kind of multi-tasking exercise… I walk because it’s supposed to be good for me. I also walk to think. It’s kind of amazing to think of all of the posts you’ve not been subjected to as I discarded them while working my way along the salt marshes to the beach. I even added another component to my walking and to my thinking time… I pick up trash. No, not the remains of my discarded ideas, but real junk that other users of this road have seen fit to toss.
What a metaphor for life. Multi-tasking is now the norm. To not multi-task is to somehow feel guilty that we aren’t using our time wisely or productively. It’s a change in how we live our lives. Today’s snow after yesterday’s warmth is another reminder of change and a reminder that change is everywhere.
And so, as the universe would have it, this week I encountered an article by Sebastien Turbot in Forbes magazine, “Education: Change Is Here. But Are You Ready For It?”
Turbot is an interesting guy. He is currently the curator and director of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) located in Qatar. He serves as an adjunct professor at the Paris School of International Affairs, is a Fellow at the Royal Academy for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce and served as the editorial director for TEDx Paris.
He summarizes the dilemma facing educators today throughout the world as follows:
Our education system wasn’t much of a problem until now. The system addressed the 19th century industrial revolution needs for labour that could perform simple and repetitive tasks. But that era is long over. Our children must gear up for the ‘gig’ economy. By the time today’s graduates are 38, they would have gone through 10 to maybe 14 jobs. Moreover, 15 years from now, 65% of graduates will be going into jobs that don’t exist yet.
He describes a situation familiar to many of us. The changes that we are seeing, some of which have occurred as we continue in our practice, and others which politicians and policy wonks have defined for us, leave us wrestling with how we are to break away from our traditional approaches to teaching and learning.
So my first answer to Turbot’s question “Change is Here. But Are You Ready For It?” is easy. Of course not. The majority of us do not find change easy. Change threatens us. It threatens our sense of efficacy (maybe I won’t be able to learn this new stuff or be as effective as I am now). It threatens our confidence in our ability to adapt (what if I’m one of the “old dogs” who can’t learn “new tricks”?). It threatens our sense of order and comfort (I finally learned how to teach volcanoes successfully and now you want to take it out of the curriculum?). Turbot suggests that the changes we are being asked to accept and embrace may “…resemble the current state of our world: chaotic and ambiguous.”
But denying change or trying to ignore it is futile.. and increasingly stressful. I recently read the following quote and apologize in advance to the author for not remembering the source… “In trying to adapt to change, we have choices. We can crawl or we can run. But we can’t stand still.”
Why can’t we stand still? Why can’t we do school the way we’ve experienced it ourselves and the way we’ve passed it on to kids for the years we’ve been teaching? Or maybe a bit more subtly… But which changes am I supposed to respond to? My school is a “change factory”. We barely understand one before the next one is thrown at us. I’ve visited numerous schools where we could have filled a wall with post-it notes each naming a new program or change that the school or district has “embraced”. Most of these have one thing in common. No one’s doing them any more!
We can’t stand still for the very reasons that Turbot shares when he offers the results of the WISE study on jobs of the future. Everything about our world today screams access. Access to information. Access to people. Access to learning. And none of these accesses scream school. I needed to wire a three way switch at home. Where did I go? You Tube. I’m learning to paint in water colors. From where? You Tube! My grandson is struggling with statistics. Where does he turn? Khan Academy.
Dr. Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University titled his keynote address at the South By Southwest Education conference (SXSWEdu) “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service.”
“We got it from here” is what kids all over the country are beginning to believe. Dr. Edmin points out that “thank you 4 your service” is just a polite way of saying “you’re fired”. Our value of educators is no longer the transmission of information. It is no longer organizing schools in pursuit of efficiency. It is not even in the organizing and sequencing of content in the courses we teach. If we persist in trying to do these roles better, we will hear with increasing frequency the words “We got it from here. Thank you 4 your service”.
One of the changes we have to learn how to embrace is how to teach our kids to develop a commitment to learning and how to help each kid (and each adult) in our school communities learn how to use the tools and access available to them in ways that help them develop the skills and dispositions necessary to succeed in jobs we cannot predict.
In the years I spent traveling the country and working with schools and districts, I had plenty of chances to see why the Gallup study about student engagement revealed such disappointing results.
But during that same time I also had the opportunity to visit schools and programs in which the engagement levels of students and adults were remarkable. We know how to do this. We are doing it. I thought I’d end this post with some examples of alternatives to simply “doing school”. This is by no means an exhaustive list; however, it does provide a kind of cross-section of the variety of ways in which folks around the country offer hope (and, possibly, direction) for those who wish to move from a culture dominated by schooling to one committed to learning. I hope you’ll take a few minutes and explore. Sharing your thoughts in the Comments section is a great way to continue the exploration.
South Heights Elementary School– Henderson Count, KY
South Heights is a K-5 school serving approximately 570 students. South Heights is one of he poorest schools in Henderson County, is a Title I school, and only 10 years ago ranked in the bottom 10% of schools in Kentucky. The school has been just named a Model School by the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) for the 7th consecutive year. They have recently been named a “Sustained Model School” by ICLE, one of only two in the nation.
Note: I have visited and maintained a supportive relationship with the school leader, Rob Carroll, who has successfully created a culture of caring, continual growth, and commitment to excellence. Here is their Facebook page.
YES College Prep Charter Schools Network, Houston, TX
YES College Prep is an open-enrollment public charter school serving students in grades 6-12 in Houston’s most underserved neighborhoods. The first YES school opened in 1995 and has expanded into a network of 16 schools serving traditionally underserved populations (96% Hispanic and African American) with a poverty rate (free and reduced lunch count) of 84%. From 2007 to the present YES schools have been named to the Top 100 Schools in the nation (US News and World Report), The mission statement defines clearly the YES goal… “YES Prep Public Schools will increase the number of students from underserved communities who graduate from college prepared to learn. “ The schools offer rigorous academic curricula and assessments, a robust student intervention system, extensive enrichment opportunities, personalized college counseling and support through college. Over 70% of YES graduates are enrolled in college or have obtained their degrees.
Note: I completed a case study on the first YES high school almost 10 tears ago. At that time and, still today, the YES network demonstrated a committed to intentionally creating structures designed to serve the goals of the school and the needs of its students.
The Big Picture Schools exist as members of a network of 65 schools located in the US and abroad. The organization was founded in 1995 with the mission of putting students directly at the center of their own learning. Although begun as a school design model, the organization and network of schools now focuses on the challenge and mission of changing the way we think about schools. Students in Big Picture Schools are grouped into small learning communities of 15 students facilitated by a teacher/advisor. Additionally, each student has an internship where he/she works with a mentor in a real world setting. Each school is organized around 10 “Distinguishers”. While schools in different locations may look quite different from one another, they share in the commitment to these essential elements.
The Cristo Rey Network comprises 32 Catholic, college preparatory schools that today serve 10,933 students across 21 states and DC. The unusual focus of the school combines college prep work with a structured, four year corporate work study program, targeted to poor, urban youth.
It is the integration of rigorous academic expectations, equally rigorous support and intervention services, and real world, relevant experience that offers lessons for traditional schools looking to move beyond the current, failing reform strategies.
Apollo School, Central York High School, York, PA
The Apollo School provides an excellent examples of the ways in which school leaders can support the efforts of small groups of teachers wishing to explore new directions inside of a traditional school structure. In some circles, this approach is know as making “little bets” – i.e., encouraging creative responses in ways that are minimally disruptive in order to “test” the viability for larger scale implementation.
In an article that appeared in the Cult of Pedagogy, Jennifer Gonzales shared the following description…
The Apollo School is a program that operates inside a regular public school, Central York High School in York, Pennsylvania. Apollo is a semester-long, four-hour block of classes—English, social studies, and art—all blended together and co-taught by three teachers, one from each subject area. Throughout the semester, students are responsible for designing and completing four major projects, each of which is aligned with standards in all three subject areas.
Jennifer Gonzales, The Cult of Pedagogy, February 2017
As always, thanks for being there. In the words of Garrison Keillor… Be well. Do good work. Keep in Touch.