In recent posts I’ve focused on the opportunities offered by COVID-19 for making significant changes in education. For the next few posts, we’ll be concentrating on one of the most vexing issues involved in altering deeply entrenched systems. I deliberately used “we” here because for these posts this blog will serve as a forum for several highly regarded colleagues. While misuse of social media platforms has been getting a lot of negative (and in my view, well-deserved) attention recently, this collaboration with three highly regarded educators (known among one another as The 4 Amigos) continues to demonstrate the possibilities of connection. I’ve included brief bios of each of us at the end of this post.
As a starter I’d like to reiterate a few thoughts about why we must consider options to simply recreating the experiences that our students had prior to the disruption of the pandemic.
Recent Gallup polls suggest that the engagement level of students here in the US, drops from almost 80% in 4th grade to less than 40% by grade 11. Why would we recreate experiences that were accompanied by such precipitous drops in engagement the longer students attend school?
Recent studies in the NY Times report dramatic increases in pre-adolescent and adolescent stress, anxiety, and depression. Youth suicides (pre-pandemic) have never been higher. Why would we recreate experiences that contributed to these dramatic decreases in the social emotional health of our children?
The organization and separation of content in use today has remained largely unchanged since it was designed by the Committee of Ten in 1893. Why would we recreate a series of experiences based on content silos disconnected from one another and increasingly separate from real life?
Perhaps most significantly, why would schooling continue to organize teaching and learning in ways totally at odds with our current knowledge and understanding of learning and the human brain?
Pandemic as Portal
What we know is that schools, as they have reopened, barely resemble the schools we knew. We are seeing the beginnings of parental responses to these options in a national movement known as “pandemic pods” or microschools. This movement is one response to what we have described as the “pandemic portal”… the opening of a doorway to what could be.
As I’ve shared here previously, to take advantage of this opportunity, we need to move beyond expending energy on the recreation of yesterday’s schools, beyond debating why change, and focus on how to create the structures and cultures we need. This series will focus on that how.
We will begin with the seat of learning, the brain, and how learning can/must change with our new awareness. We hope that you will join us on this exploration, that you will share your successes and stumbles, that you will create for one another and for our children the circles of support and safety where change is possible.
Dr. Susan Clayton – Susan began her teaching career in 1969 in a high school in Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada. She taught Physical Education with the explicit intent to change how PE was taught to young women in high school. In 1987 Susan went back to school (while working full time) to acquire a Master’s degree in School Counselling. She worked as an elementary school counsellor for 10 years. During this time she was President of the British Columbia School Counsellors’ Association for 3 years. Susan then went ‘to the Board Office’ as the coordinator for teacher professional development. In 1999 Susan returned to university (while working full time) to acquire a doctorate in Educational Leadership. She was a Faculty Associate for 3 years for Simon Fraser University (Vancouver BC) where she worked with pre-service teachers. She retired from school systems in 2003 and formed her consulting company, working first for Grant Wiggins and for the past 14 years as an independent. Much of Susan’s work has been in brain based learning in Singapore. She continues to serve as an online coach for Harvard’s Visible Thinking course.
Tom Welch – Tom has been a high school English and French teacher and was named Kentucky Teacher of the Year. HE worked at the Kentucky Department of Education as their sweeping Education Reform Act was initiated. With that background he was asked to become the first principal of a new public high school in his home district. Among the unique things he implemented there were a model where the 3 administrators taught a class every day, and he also developed a program so that every graduating senior received her/his US Passport at commencement. Following his school career, Tom returned to the Kentucky Dept of Ed as “Director of Seeding Innovation” where he continued to oversee and encourage a number of forward-looking programs. His subsequent consulting career has taken him all over the country and in the midst of a busy “retirement” he continues to work as a “connectivist” for the Univ of KY’s NextGen Learning Initiative.
Cameron Jones – Cam Jones collaborates in the development of learning experiences with children from kindergarten to high school, and adults; with industry partners from music to aerospace, the skilled trades to apiarists, urban farmers to food banks, filmmakers to politicians. Cam’s leadership is thoughtful and responsive, oriented towards understanding needs in the development of creative possibilities. Cam’s thinking begins with listening to people and reading voraciously: and then wondering about how the world should be and taking the first steps in that direction, encouraging others to join me from wherever they are. Cam is the Leader of Experiential Learning in Ottawa, Canada.
Rich TenEyck – Rich began his teaching career in 1964 at St. Joseph’s High School. He was named a Fulbright international exchange teacher and taught for a year in a German middle school. Returning from Germany, Rich continued his teaching career while exploring and leading innovative responses to student learnng needs. Rich has served in various administrative positions, retiring as a district superintendent where he successfully introduced and spearheaded the use of interest based bargaining in the district’s labor negotiations. Rich failed retirement and accepted an invitation to serve as an Assistant Commissioner in the NJ Department of Education, overseeing the Department’s offices for Standards and Assessment, Innovative Programs, and Career/Tecnical Education. Failing retirement once again, Rich joined the International Center for Leadership in Education and the Successful Practices Network where he served as national and international consultant, focusing on leadership, culture, and learner engagement. Enjoying his family and the exoloration of coastal waters, Rich obviously continues to fail retirement.
Image – Gary Larson – Far Side Gallery