Thinking About More Relevant Schools and Classrooms…(Part One)

How can we make sure that their work in school pays off for our students?

(Disclaimer – The concerns I have are not just about the school system where I work or the one where my students attend, they are systemic issues that everyone of us who is impacted by the education of our youth should consider.  Oh yeah, we are all impacted by the education of our youth!)

As I continue to read stories about what is happening in the “real world,” you know the place we are supposed to be preparing our students for, my concerns about the level of preparation that our students will have as they exit our doors.  While I have a good level of confidence that our students will be able to do the basics well (i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic), I am fairly confident that the learning environments that they inhabit within our school walls have not changed and will leave them lacking the skills they will need to prosper in a world where things are changing.

Andreas Schleicher, The Education Director for The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), describes the dilemma as follows in his article The Case for 21st Century Learning:

It is about how knowledge is generated and applied, about shifts in ways of doing business, of managing the workplace or linking producers and consumers, and becoming quite a different student from the kind that dominated the 20th century. What we learn, the way we learn it, and how we are taught is changing. This has implications for schools and higher level education, as well as for lifelong learning.

While educational policy makers scream for “accountability,” our students continue to lose out on the relevant experiences that have been ignored or brushed aside as we prepare for the next round of standardized testing.  If you don’t believe me just read the account of Bill Ferriter, a science teacher from North Carolina, and how his classroom will change for the worse next year because of our nation’s test-driven reform policy. 

It is time for local communities to come together and focus on a vision for students that will allow teachers to veer from a test-driven agenda and ensure a relevance-driven agenda.  If you agree with Schleicher and his vision (below) of the successful student:

They are capable not only of constantly adapting, but also constantly learning and growing in a fast-changing world. In a flat world, our knowledge becomes a commodity available to everyone else. As columnist and author Thomas Friedman puts it, because technology has enabled us to act on our imaginations in ways that we could never before, the most important competition is no longer between countries or companies but between ourselves and our imagination.

As someone who has worked in public education for 20-years, I know the biggest challenge for me is due to my past experiences in school and a lack of imagination to think beyond these experiences. How can we, the adults in the school, overcome our own hurdles to set the stage for a more meaningful experience for our students?

A concluding thought from Schleicher:

Value is less and less created vertically through command and control-as in the classic “teacher instructs student” relationship-but horizontally, by whom you connect and work with, whether online or in person. 

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