Monday, 29 October 2012

Preparing for the Storm

New Yorkers scurry through the streets, rushing to the nearest grocery store to stock up on bare essentials.  Weathermen point to technicolor maps portraying doom and gloom.  Officials flood the airwaves with emergency contingency plans.  The entire city is on edge as they prepare for the arrival of a most unwelcome guest, Hurricane Sandy.

As I made my way to Teacher College's Coaching Institute last week, there's no way I could've predicted that this is where I would find myself by Sunday evening.  Today, I'm hunkering down in my hotel room to see if the brick wall outside my window will budge under the blustery conditions.  As I do, I can't help but think that I've felt the same sense of urgency in my sessions with keynote speakers and staff developers about the current storm looming in education.

The Storm is Looming

In her keynote, Lucy Calkins noted that education is at a major crossroads.  With the advent of the Common Core Standards, one of the "most significant documents in the history of American education," educators are poised to make dramatic change.  The problem is, she added citing her work with Hargreaves and Fullan, the authors of Professional Capital, the pathway to implement change is not so clear.  Some leaders advocate a business approach with an emphasis on short term reforms and cost-saving measures while others push for a professional approach that acknowledges the complexity of teaching and relies on the collective capacity of experienced teachers.  At this point, it is unclear which way education will go.  Meanwhile, the storm is looming.

As if this isn't enough, Tony Wagner, author of The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators, stated in his keynote that reformers have it all wrong.  The system of education is not failing, it's completely obsolete.  With the disappearance of routine, semi-skilled jobs and the democratization and commoditization of knowledge, it's time to reinvent how we educate our students.  We need to promote a culture of learning and innovation.  Here's why:

Wagner went on to say how the current culture of school is radically at odds with the culture of learning:

The Culture of Today’s Schooling
The Culture of Learning and Innovation
  • Schools celebrate individual achievements

  • Schools celebrate collaboration and collective achievement

  • Schools honor specialization and becoming specialists (teachers work in departments, students declare majors)

  • Schools promote approaching problems from multiple perspectives and disciplines

  • Schools impose a culture of passive consumption where students are meant to take in and regurgitate

  • Schools seeks ways in which students can create real products for real audiences

  • Schools penalize failure

  • Schools honor risk taking and learning from failure

  • Schools rely on external motivation

  • Schools rely on intrinsic motivation

Clearly, the storm is looming, and it can leave us in a frenzied state wondering how we can prepare ourselves to make a difference.  Just like the people who loaded their baskets with food, water, and flashlights ahead of Hurricane Sandy, we need to take action.  

Preparing for the Storm

So what's in our basket?  The good news is, we already have many practices, routines and frameworks in place as we move forward.  In addition, I offer up these reminders and considerations as we continue to fine-tune our work in and out of the classrooms.

Student Checklist for Opinion Writing
1.  We need to continue to teach with intensity and purpose in our Reading and Writing Workshops.  As I observed staff developers in classrooms on Friday, I noticed how they implement mini-lessons that encourage more student reflection and action.  By continually referring to checklists, writing more "flash drafts," and monitoring their progress throughout a unit, students work actively as they transfer skills across units, increase their volume and develop independent writing habits. 

2.  We need to continue to work collaboratively with our colleagues.  As Literacy Coaches Gina La Porta Roller and David Lowe noted through their work with teachers in Seattle schools, we can pinpoint effective practice, promote areas of inquiry, and calibrate student learning and teacher practice within and across grade levels thereby leveraging our collective capacity.  This is perfect work that some of us are already tackling in our PLCs.

3.  Throughout our work, we should think about how we can integrate and assess the "Core Competency" skills that Wagner states are essential in creating innovative students.   These include:

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
  • Collaborating
  • Adapting
  • Initiating
  • Effective Oral and Written Communicating
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Developing Curiosity and Imagination

4.  We need to use our time wisely.  Let's face it, time is our most precious commodity, and how we use it both in and out of the classroom matters.  We need to ensure that our students are spending the bulk of the time in our classrooms by reading and writing.  Staff Developer Chris Lehman noted that it takes two hours of reading a day for a struggling student to make up more than a year and a half of growth over time.  To get better at anything, we need time to practice and rehearse.

In addition, Wagner suggests we should make time for play.  He cited the 20% Google Rule as a model that we can emulate not only for our students, but for us as well.  By allowing for time while holding ourselves accountable for exploration through personal passion, we would model risk taking and continued learning for our students.  Who knows, we may be surprised with what we come up with as well.

So in the face of an oncoming storm, things don't always have to be so dreary.  As I watch Mayor Bloomberg and his team conduct press conferences where they explain the choices have made and the plans they have set in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy, I'm inspired by their forethought and insight in seeing this storm through safely.  I believe that we can do the same for current state where we are in education.  So what do you say, are you with me?

Images from:  

1 comment:

  1. It does feel like the storm is coming...sooner rather than later, I hope. I'm happy you arrived back in SG safely. Just as I know we at SAS will land safely. I'm excited for the change...and I'm with you.