Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tailgating on the road to reform

Another school change post, but who's counting? Tom Haskins' post today got me thinking about all of the work, the conversations, and the connections we are making in any of the various "2.0" intimations that we are creating. But what are we really waiting for? What are the divides that keep us from moving forward? Haskins points to this:

Schools will change when the need to change shows up in the rear view mirror. The economy and culture will already have made the turn and changed direction without the proper education to do so. The know howto invent new models, enterprises and social constructs will not reflect how the innovators were taught, graded or indoctrinated. The change agents will have gotten their education from what works (evidence based), what seems inspired (unconscious guidance) and what makes the most sense at the time (reflective practice).
My response to this post is below:

I like your thinking here--that systemic change in education will only occur when
there is direct need as seen by the most affected stakeholders. Those
stakeholders are obviously not us. We see the need. In actuality, I
hope it's the students.

If we have truly done our job of preparing students for life, then (the students) taking hold of their learning might be a natural outgrowth of that. Our system as it is now is set up so
that our students are just passengers along for an educational tour of
content. Until we put them in a position to pilot the tour themselves,
that rear-view mirror will look mighty clear.

Karl Fisch and others noted the lack of student presence at conferences like NECC07, and I am beginning to think that that might be the single most important thing we do in the near future. I remember in college, I was trying to impress a girl, Alicia, I think was her name. In order to impress dulcet Alicia, I participated in something known as a critical mass bike ride to protest lack of cycling lanes in our fair collegiate city. There we were on a Friday afternoon, all 250 of us on bikes, flooding every intersection we came to proving that a large group of determined people could really push for change, or at least annoy some commuters into illicit gestures from the safety of their sedans.

A critical mass of students pushing school systems to change in order to engage them. How does that happen? Terry Holliday via LeaderTalk addressed the need for this shift and characterized it as the most exciting and challenging part of his whole career:
As school leaders, we are faced with translating changing requirements for 21st century readiness that call for more rigor, relevance, and relationships to our parents, staff, and students. In translating these requirements, we are expected to make
changes in systems that have been in place for over 100 years. The
first step in creating change is usually to create a sense of urgency for that change and to relate the change required into “local” numbers and impact. This is hard work and very challenging. It is the proverbial “squeeze play” that
school leaders find themselves in every day. While it is the most
challenging work I have encountered in 35 years of education, it is
also the most exciting work that I have done. We indeed are preparing
messengers to a time that we will not see and cannot accurately predict.
The more I interact with teachers, the more I realize how hard they work just to do the things that are asked of them by the state, their administrators, etc. Having me come in and tell them that they should be engaging the students on a whole other plane is not a soothing moment or one that causes a "eureka" moment. The teachers I work with do want to give their students the best possible chance to succeed as they move through life. I just happen to think it will be the students who determine what it is they will need.

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Clay Burell said...

Yep. I've written a dream of seeing students lead their k-12 schools to join the 200+ American universities in taking the "Carbon-Neutral Pledge."

That's one example of how they can drive instead of take back seat.

Others inside the classroom, as long as we teachers and adminners remain schooly - that's tougher. Not impossible, but tougher.

Patrick Higgins said...


I have to say, when I wrote this one yesterday, your push for student-driven, "real" learning was in the back of my mind.

What we need are visionaries in the classroom; forward-thinking teachers who see this direction and seize the opportunity to institute some authentic experiences for their students, not just something that will be filed (if we are lucky) and discarded at the end of the year.

Looking forward to showing off some of your collaborative wikis on Monday-Tuesday of this week during my wiki workshop.

Bach said...


Although I do agree that students need to be included in the planning and decision making process (such as the state mandated in the student input section of the NJ tech plan this year) however, I don't believe they should necessarily be in the driver's seat.

Kids don't know what they don't know.

By this I mean that many students (at least in my experience) are not as savvy as we make them out to be and those that are are a minority. They do not possess a world-view until they are pushed to do so either by necessity or by a mentor/teacher who shows/motivates them to.

I think of my own high school experience where in the mid -80s you career path from my suburban high school was either Doctor/Lawyer/Big Business -- Cop/Nurse/Teacher -- McDonalds

on the specturm. None of us knew any better and not many helped us see any differently. I didn;t see more clearly until I got tho college, and even there it took until my senior year. I may have been involved in my own little "mini relvolutions" such as your bike lane protest, but I question if you or I or anyone sees the "bigger picture" more than that moment?

That is what good teachers are for-- the guides for the naive energy and wanting of youth.

(In re-reading this it sounds pretty heavy for a Friday. I'll blame the extra large iced coffee I'm drinking.)

Christian Long said...

In response to Bach, I agree that kids -- like most people, actually -- do not know what they do not know.

I do, however, suggest that it is not an either/or, or a "let the inmates run the prison" suggestion.

The simple fact is that history centered schools around the teacher for a lot of obvious reasons, and learning was a matter of what could be drilled and trained into a student.

Looking forward? Our system is clearly in need of a shake-up, and the adults who created it certainly can't unsolve it using the same mindset (see Albert Einstein for a better turn of phrase here). They need new partners in crime (for good, if you will), in other words.

Additionally, our students need to be shown how to collaborate, how to frame the essential question, how to pursue projects of value to the larger world, and how to step into leadership roles. Until the mid-1800's, western kids were expected to be 'adults' by the age of 12/13. There was no extended adolescence where they were hand-fed the 'answers'. The apprenticed in real shops, they were married, and they were expected to add to society.

It isn't a matter of 'if' our students can be co-collaborators in technical terms. It is a matter of whether or not we take them seriously...while guiding them along the way.

Cheers to Patrick for sparking the conversation.


Patrick Higgins said...

Another example of the capacity of connective writing to teach: I had not pushed this thought enough--it hadn't gotten to the form that it needed to. In step Bach and Christian to help move it closer to what it can be.

In that light, Bach, I do agree that if we turn things over to students without the scaffolding necessary we end up in a big mess of self-esteem building with no actual learning taking place. What would be ideal would be to make student involvement meaningful, but do so with rigor and expectation attached. Clay's projects are beginning to reflect that.

Christian, you really extend this in the direction it should go. There is a correct marriage between collaboration with students, and mentorship with standards attached. "Here is the level I think you can reach, how do we get there?"

Maybe Bach is right; as I write this response and think of ownership of learning, I realize I didn't really pick up that concept until I was in my 20's.

Is that a product of maturity, or the system I was educated in?