One of the commitments that I made to my staff in August was to visit every classroom and meet with every staff before the Christmas break. I finished these visits in mid-December. Part of my goal for these visits was to engage staff on why I believe that schools and education as a whole need to be transformed. Unfortunately, some of my message was lost due to examples I used in describing why we need to change, continue to hone our skills and simply do things differently. However, although quite disappointed that my intent was not viewed positively by some staff, I still intend to forward that conversation. As an educational leader, it is far too important and I am far too passionate to let a little criticism stand in the way of conversations about educational reform.
One of my points was that in order to transform education, we need to fully engage the community. In Jamie Vollmer’s words, we need community trust, understanding, permission and support to truly make any significant change in education. This point was further drilled home to me as I visited with my parents over the Christmas holidays. Both being semi-retired, they represent a significant population that have little to do with the day to day education system in our province. Even though they are fairly well informed because of my involvement in education over the past 26 years, I found it ironic that their perceptions of education were still fairly limited. And that is why all of us in education need to forward the conversation on transformation.
So here are some thoughts that I believe we need to engage our public in order to transform the system. However, it needs to come from local educators and not provincial organizations. Parents and the community at large trust their own local educators more than anybody else.
- The schools of today need to be very different than they were before. We can ill afford to have students not graduate from high school. The opportunities today for a middle/upper class lifestyle without a high school education and only due to a strong back and a good work ethic are few and far between. Too often the result of not graduating high school is either a journey to the justice or welfare systems. Neither of these “career paths” are acceptable to society.
- With not graduating from high school not being an acceptable option, we now are required to be successful with all students. Teachers are being asked to meet the needs of all students in their classrooms. This requires a teacher to have multiple strategies to engage all students simultaneously. Differentiated instruction and assessment are no longer optional in today’s classrooms. I don’t believe most non-educators understand the amount of work required to differentiate a classroom.
- One of the reasons that teachers are professionals is that they possess a specialized knowledge. Although all of us have gone through school, the life of a teacher in the classroom can only really be learned through experience. Outsiders may think they know what happens in a classroom but until you’ve actually experienced it as an educator, most are really unaware of the professional practice required. Except for the technology, there have not been many changes in the physical structure of the classroom or doctor’s office. But it is the practice occurring within those structures that demonstrates the specialized knowledge. And like the doctor, that specialized knowledge needs to be supportive of the latest research and the most effective and efficient.
- Assessing student success cannot be limited to a single written exam. We need multiple assessments for students to demonstrate learning. Some students can perform the task, others can verbally describe, while still others are great on paper and pencil tests. Unfortunately, we limit the description of being a successful student to the one who performs well on the written exam. How fair is that? In reality, what do we really want to accomplish in education and is it measurable? “The central task of education is to implant a will and a facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together. In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” (Eric Hoffer- Reflections on the Human Condition, 1973)
- The mandate creep in education has become unmanageable. School systems are expected to pick up the slack from society. What was once taught at home, at church or in the community is now expected to be picked up at the school. Great organizations know what their core business is and then organize around those priorities. The priorities of school have long been put aside to meet the deficiencies of society. Schools cannot focus on their core business, namely education without support from communities.
These points are only the beginning of the conversations needed. Accountability, curriculum and the professional status of educators are also important conversations that need to occur and I will blog about in the future. Furthermore, there are some incredible leaders who utilize social media to further these conversations. Check out Sir Ken Robinson, Will Richardson or Pasi Sahlberg who are passionate leaders of educational reform. But as I’ve said before, transformation begins with a conversation.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing you’ve always done and expecting different results. If education doesn’t change from both inside and outside the system we will continue to engage in insanity. Local educators… forward the conversation and assist in making a system not for today but for tomorrow!