Saturday, January 2, 2016

Reflections and Aspirations of the State of Learning and Education

The last year has proven to be one of the best yet both personally and professionally for this
humble educational innovation blogger. Shifting from a learning role leading innovative educational reform initiatives, community partnerships and educational technology into a new role as Head of School and Chief Learning Officer at a start-up school focused on urban education has stretched my thinking, broadened my understanding of the community of stakeholders involved within the learning space and fueled my passion to help all students seek and find their purpose. As I have met new people, particularly those involved with Schools that Can and the Remake Learning Network in Pittsburgh, I am in awe of the amazing educators working tirelessly to infuse innovation into learning. While progress was made in 2015, there is still an immense amount of work that needs to be done, best practices that need to be shared and research that needs to measure new and innovative approaches to learning so that systemic change can be made across all schools in America. My aspiration as we enter a new year is to be involved at both ends of the spectrum at the highest levels that impact systemic change and within the trenches, getting to know students, teachers and helping create ways for them to make necessary shifts. 

Working as an educator for over 15 years, pursuing an educational doctorate and being an "on the ground" practitioner has led me to believe that the prevailing methods of schooling crush the creativity and initiative young people need to thrive in the 21st century. Unless we re-imagine school, the growing divide between affluent schools and urban schools will continue to grow. Like many other advocates for education reform, I believe we must speak out to give every student a chance to find, identify and 'try-out' multiple pathways to learning in ways that are creative, safe and fulfilling. We have the opportunity to use our neighborhoods and all of the resources (museums, companies, parks, rivers..) within to build dynamic and experiential learning opportunities. Furthermore, we should focus more on the "whole-child" around wellness, mental health, character building and emotional intelligence. However, for much of the last hundred years, education has been passive and limited to block buildings with rows of immobile wooden and steel desks. Is 2016 the year more schools will shift their focus from lecture, rote memorization and compliance to experiences that are active, filled with joy and provide a sense of ownership to students? I can only hope and be a part of the league of educational leaders that promotes and supports new learning models. 

Over the holiday break I re-read Most Likely to Succeed, where Ted Dintersmith and Tony Wagner call for the radical re-imagining of American education so we may better prepare students for the realities of the 21st century economy. Pressure to get into top colleges, take as many AP courses as possible and amass college debt are unfortunately a key part of the industrial-age education process most of American students currently face today. This model has proven to not be functional, especially for the most at-risk youth, yet because of policy limitations and lack of urgency and inactivity within many schools it continues to be the sole pathway most schools use to "prepare" students. While students may graduate with credentials, by and large they lack the competencies needed to be thoughtful, engaged citizens and to get good jobs in our rapidly evolving economy (Dintersmith and Wagner, 2015). Our school system was engineered a century ago to produce a work force for a world that no longer exists. If you are an educational administrator, teacher or other stakeholder within education that shapes policy or provides funding, as we enter into 2016 - what will YOU commit to break the cycle of uninspiring and unfulfilling educational experiences that take place in many schools today? 

From early childhood education until high school graduation and into post-secondary training and college, we need to re-imagine what education can and should be. At the earliest ages we need to focus on social emotional learning, opportunities to try, risk, and fail all within learning systems that are personalized, culturally relevant and connect to the broader community where students come from. Once students transition into middle school, career awareness programming and higher-level character building will prepare students for apprenticeships and field-based learning. I firmly believe that every high school student should have access to multiple learning pathways that bring opportunity for a better life. Within learning communities let's also talk and act upon issues related to social justice, diversity, racism and gender inequality - the topics that are HARD but necessary as we build civility and citizenship in our youth. As Dintersmith and Wagner suggest, there is need for both a top-down and bottom-up strategy for systemic change and for an accountability system that measures what matters most, powerful teaching and learning. These shifts are needed to change the prevailing system that does not capitalize on innovation. Those who create and catalyze on a world hungry for innovation will best prepare youth to flourish in the future....these are the students most likely to succeed. 

Links to check out:
Most Likely to Succeed: The Future of School Tour
Most Likely to Succeed: A Film About What School Could Be

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