Adults In Our Learning Organization

Learning–the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.  For what seems like forever, schools have talked about developing students who are life long learners and yet, we loosely support professional development by sending teachers to some conferences or signing off on hours spent learning “Google classroom” or strategies for using YouTube in the classroom or “behavior strategies for elementary students”.

I’m guessing, or better said hopeful, that all of the professional development hours our teachers engage in are meaningful. I’m wondering how much time is spent after that Master’s degree continuing to learn about learning–the very reason we exist?

In the book And What Do YOU Mean by Learning?, Seymour B. Sarason talks about productive learning.

And by productive I mean that the learning process is one which engenders and reinforces wanting to learn more. Absent wanting to learn, the learning context is unproductive or counterproductive.

In schools, we are often focused on the acquisition of knowledge or skills that help students achieve on a NYS test. I challenge that helping our students to acquire that level of learning is the bare minimum we should expect of ourselves.

I taught for eleven years, one year of grades 5-8 Science, Spanish and literature in a small Catholic school and ten years of grades 7-12 Spanish and business in a small public school. I was as much of an adult learner then as I am today–constantly reading professional publications and attending relevant conferences when possible. Still, my students acquired enough knowledge to do well on the NYS exams. And you know what? Very few of them wanted to learn more and fewer acquired/retained the knowledge beyond the exam.

I did the best that I knew how, every day. Just as all of our teachers and employees do every day at SGI.

However, in leading this school district, I’m committed to working with everyone within our school community to consider what a Springville-Griffith education means. We’re not complacently settling for the status quo. And the only way I know how to bust the status quo?–

We’ve got to keep learning about learning. Every adult in our system. If you listened to me or to our keynote Will Richardson on opening day talk about the need to change public schools and thought, “I like school the way it is now” or “thank goodness they’re here to correct all of these other people” or “this too shall pass”, then you’re missing the point. It’s not about a prescriptive plan of “if we do/buy/implement this, then we’ll have changed”. That plan would end two minutes after I walk out of the door to retire some day.

We’re asking you to learn. We need to learn more about the acquisition of knowledge and skills today, in 2017. The world has absolutely changed and the access our students have to vast, incredible amounts of information has too. We have to do more than prepare our students for the exams. Our students need to have ample opportunities within every school day to discover, create, develop their talents and curiosity, to explore, ask questions and connect. I didn’t offer enough opportunities in my classroom for students to do any of those things. Are we now? Some days. In some classrooms. For some students. 

That’s not good enough. Our leadership team is going to share resources with our teachers–articles, books, podcasts, and feedback– throughout this year. We’re going to continue our own learning. We’d like to support you in your learning. We’re going to work with all of you in our school community to develop and communicate what it means to be a learner at SGI. We’re going to reimagine what school can be for our students at the same time that we meet the expectations of a NYS public school district.

I think we can do this and do it well. We all come here every day to make a difference. Let’s make sure it’s the very best difference that every SGI student deserves in 2017. Please be thinking about what YOU can do to learn more. And I promise, we will do our very best to support you.

 

Mission, Personal and Schools

When I went to school in the seventies and eighties, I doubt that my parents had any big ideas about what my education should be about–instead, they thought a lot about what I should be about and more specifically, how I should behave and what grades I should get. Their expectation was that I graduate from high school with at least B’s in everything and then become a secretary like my mom.

When our own two kids went to school in the nineties and 2000’s, our expectation was that our kids get A’s, that they work hard and behave well, that they question and advocate for themselves. They were expected to graduate from high school, then college, and then become whatever they wanted while earning a good living.

When our grandson goes to school, I wonder what everyone’s expectations will be? What will the school district’s mission be when he can google so much information that I learned from a textbook or a teacher and then promptly forgot? When he can then access all of that information in a heartbeat and therefore doesn’t really need to memorize it, what will the mission of his schools be? 

Like my education and that of our own children, I will expect that he learn to read and write well. I want him to know how to construct a sentence that’s clear and grammatically correct. Why? Because I don’t want him to sound like an idiot when he’s trying to communicate. His ability to communicate well, both face to face and in writing, will likely be one of his most important assets, no matter what he chooses to do. I want him to understand the importance of physical fitness and how to be healthy, both physically and emotionally. I want him to understand the physical world around him and to know history so that he can understand whatever political climate he’s living within. I want him to have strong mathematical skills so that he’s able to problem solve and figure out his own taxes, bills, plans for a house, interest rates. Why? Because I don’t want him to sound like an idiot when he’s managing the numbers of his life.

Most of all, I want him to be able to work well with others and to develop and maintain strong relationships. I want him to advocate for himself and for others, to protect himself and his family, to earn enough of an income to have those things he wants and needs in life. I want him to make thoughtful decisions based on thorough research and analysis. I want him to be able to figure things out, to think, learn and love.

I know that much of that will be taught at our family’s dining room tables. In our living rooms he’ll learn how to look a person in the eye and shake his hand firmly, how to listen with respect and to treat someone. He’ll learn how to protect himself and his family from his mom, dad, grandfather and uncle.

As I think about his future in public education, I know we will meet many of those expectations. I also know we need to step up our game and move farther afield than ever before from the basic ways in which we’ve structured our systems. When we’re really honest with ourselves, and if we truly listen to our graduates, we know that our schools are not expecting enough of our students. It’s really not that hard to graduate from high school, is it?

How would I like it to be “harder” for our grandson? Think of the very best learning experiences you or your own kids have had. I think of the research I did for a business project on “Members Only” jackets while in high school and the school store we operated. I remember my English classes in which I received feedback that shaped my use of the English language and the accounting classes that made math real for me. For my own children, I don’t honestly remember anything that challenged or pushed their thinking or made them really wonder about anything. I wonder what they would say? My daughter would remember her English classes for the personal anthology and her public speaking class but I doubt our son would mention anything significant.

I want our grandson to remember countless projects in which he researches real world problems and develops deep learning abilities. I want him to be informed about world issues and know how to act to make a difference. I want him to have learned how to collaborate and to have developed strong relationships with his teachers and his peers.  

Our mission and direction as public school systems must shift and focus more on the development of these competencies than ever before in our history. We do so many things well but there are also many things that we can do better. 

At SGI, we’re about to get to all of this as discussion points. We’ll start with a leadership team retreat in August and move to figuring this out together, as a school community, building by building, next year. We’re good, but with all of us working together, I know we can be better. Every child entering our schools deserves our best.

Schools, Happily Fat and Sedentary?

I’m in week #3 of change.school, a space where I’m learning along with educators from across the globe about modern learning. Maybe it’s just where my thinking is on a personal level, but I find myself comparing the way schools are today, in general, with my fitness and health levels.

When I’m ignoring everything we know today about health and wellness in the world, I’m quite happily fat and sedentary.  I can eat fast food and ice cream, drink lots of soda, sit on my butt during my spare time, and ignore the scale. I’m not unhappy that way, honestly. But I KNOW there are other ways of doing things and that they’re better for me too.

When I’m paying attention and being the best version of myself, I’m getting up a bit earlier to do the treadmill and yoga. I’m eating more salads and avoiding fast food and ice cream. I’m planning more for healthy eating and activities. I’m avoiding soda and I’m moving more. I pay attention to the scale. I’m happy, happier even, because my clothes fit better and I’m feeling good about myself. My practices change and I’m better for it–I eliminate those things that aren’t needed in a healthier life and I add in those that help me to improve. It’s more work, but it’s worth it.

Without considering changing our schools, isn’t it the same as remaining complacent about our personal health and fitness? Are our schools happily fat and sedentary? Are they functioning as they did for over a century without considering everything that we know today about learning and the world? Are we continuing practices just because it’s the way we’ve always done things? Are our students learning in ways outside of our classrooms that are helping them to improve and to be the best version of themselves while we give them limited opportunities to do so in our schools?

At SGI, let’s ask these questions and work at getting fit as a school district. Let’s reconsider all of our practices to determine which will help us to be the very best version of a public school district that we can be–keeping all of our healthiest practices, eliminating the junk food and soda, and adding in new practices.

Let’s plan our learning for today’s students so that we’re preparing them for the top ten skills they’ll likely need to thrive as adults.

The BOE members and administrative team and I will begin this work this summer. I’m hoping that many of our school community members–students, teachers, school employees, families and local business people–will be interested in working with us during the 2017-18 school year to figure out where we’re going and what we want an SGI education to include. It’s good now but let’s work together to be as fit and healthy–as long lasting–as possible.

What do YOU think, who’s ready?