Shifting the Way We See Education’s Purpose

Quote of the day from a recent piece in the Washington Post:

“Forget the Common Core State Standards and high-stakes testing. Forget vouchers, school choice, charters, abolition of teacher tenure, and merit pay. Forget school grades, union busting, academic rigor, new technology, flipped classrooms, and most of what’s being written about educating in the mainstream media. And forget those lists that rank nations according to the purported quality of their educational systems.

Deal successfully with the problem that the above and dozens of other scholars have pointed out (all quotes on the ways fragmented curricula necessarily create a  ‘product’ beneficial to nobody you should take the time to read), and the curriculum that emerges will be so illuminating, so powerful, so relevant, so useful, so easily taught and learned, it will change everything it touches.”

I know that I am late to the game in many ways, but this is where I am mentally, though not in my classroom entirely.  I still wrestle with questions and methods. I still worry about how to best serve my students in a fragmented system.  I still question the path currently laid out before me and how to move the path rather than simply stepping off of it.  There are times that I feel I haven’t done enough, but I do see the problem and I do wrestle and question and worry.  I search for ideas and connections and the courage to do what I know to be right.  It is the last portion of the above quote that drives me.

“…the curriculum that emerges will be so illuminating, so powerful, so relevant, so useful, so easily taught and learned, it will change everything it touches.”

After a lifetime dedicated to the craft of teaching, I really want to be a part of that type of learning landscape.

We All Work for R&D

A few years ago there was an idea that was put forth at my school- “We all work for Admissions.”  In essence, what this means is that we all work for sales at the school.  We need families to see what we do and put forth our product in the best light possible.  I agree with this sentiment, but feel like it also misses a larger, and I would say more important, idea-
“We all work for Research and Development.”

I am not a pioneer in modern education.  In many ways, I arrived late in the game and am a newbie when it comes to understanding the potentials and the best practices of educating in the 21st century.  That said, I have learned a great deal from a wide array of sources and now recognize that, if we are going to view education or learning experiences as ‘products’, we need to be exploring new frontiers in these areas and we need to be doing it collaboratively and with purpose.

For years, I have been hearing the calls for giving teachers (and students) room to fail.  Mistakes are indeed learning opportunities and should be embraced as such.  The culture of a school needs to be one in which teachers are explorers and inventors.  However, there is a big difference between a research and development team and a lone mad scientist type.  We are looking for the next great step in education, not the educational equivalent to Frankenstein’s monster. Teams of teachers dedicated to understanding learning, willing to explore and learn potentially valuable technologies and excited to explore new approaches to teaching are essential for the continuing health of a school.  At a recent ADVIS workshop on Online and Blended Learning, Brad Rathgeber, the Director of the Online School for Girls, explained that when they are looking to hire new teachers the key feature they look for is that the candidate has a “growth mindset.”

I certainly believe such a mindset is important for individual teachers, but also feel that the school itself needs to have that same mindset. Schools need to be willing to be critical of their own programs and willing to do the research and development of new programs that make sense in modern times.  They need to actively push groups of teachers to learn about different facets of teaching and learning and creatively develop ideas that utilize them in ways that enhance the philosophies of the school itself. It is through this purposeful and adventurous exploration that schools can develop high quality products that provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive.  Create that and you will make the job of the sales team in admissions much easier.