On this blog, we’ve previously looked at how an analysis of our district assessment and evaluation efforts resulted in identifying challenges we need to address to move our digital transformation work forward. One of our focus areas this year is to more clearly articulate a vision – to answer the audacious question, How do we make our schools amazing places for learners? Certainly there are lots of amazing things going on in our schools already! How do we make “amazing” systemic?
Because of this focus, I was drawn to watch Will Richardson’s recent TEDx talk, The Surprising Truth About Learning in Schools. In this post, I’ll briefly share Richardson’s questions and his proposed process to a solution followed by my thoughts on applying his ideas in my own practice as a school leader.
The question: How do we make our schools amazing places for learners?
Richardson poses this and several additional ambitious yet actionable questions about the current state of our educational system:
- Why is there a disconnect between what we believe about the conditions for powerful learning and what we practice in our schools? Why do we continue on the path that creates a disconnect between what we believe and what we practice?
- Why does the learning students do on their own look so different from the way they learn in school? How might we rebuild schools for real-world learning?
A path to a solution
Richardson believes we already know how to make schools amazing places for learners. He asks whether we have the courage to take the following actions:
- Assemble educators, parents and policymakers to articulate beliefs about how kids learn best. These beliefs should be articulated and publicly shared as in the examples of Lakes Grammar School, Melville Senior High School and Science Leadership Academy.
- Align teaching and learning practices in the classroom to the articulated beliefs. Richardson briefly shares three schools where alignment is evident: The Mosaic Collective, Northern Beaches Christian School, and Science Leadership Academy.
Applying the solution in practice
As practitioners, we know this two-step path is easier said than done, but it is a valid approach to bring about systemic change. As I reflect on the two-step solution and how it applies in my own practice, three considerations surface:
- Leadership is critical. Making systems amazing places for learners requires leadership at the top of the organization to not only have a clear destination in mind, (to “get it”) but the skills and influence to build consensus among all stakeholders about what they believe about teaching and learning. Without engaged leadership, change will continue to be limited to pockets of classrooms and teachers. Last spring, I visited one of our elementary parent organizations to engage them in an activity to uncover their beliefs about learning. The process was productive and the results were valuable and interesting. I am looking forward to repeating this process with parents and educators this coming spring and sharing it out on this blog.
- Listening to learner voice is critical. We can learn a lot from the “end user.” As beliefs and values are articulated, leaders must be certain to engage the voices of students. Over the past several years, our district leadership has scheduled regular conversations with diverse groups of students, K-12. This year, our focus has been on better understanding how learners learn, collaborate and communicate inside and outside of school. We plan future conversations around a design challenge, schools of the future, and their thoughts on the inquiry, What does the future of learning look like to me?
- Aligning classroom practices and beliefs is the most challenging work. While it may be enough of a challenge to gain consensus on a set of beliefs and values, the heavy lifting comes with bridging the gap between the vision and actual practice – developing and implementing action plans for change. While we haven’t reached this step yet, I anticipate we will explore major shifts in instruction and operations such as (1) use of time, (2) systems of assessment and evaluation, (3) student-centered instructional strategies, (4) use of technology, (5) changing roles of teachers and learners, and (6) new learning from our Innovate Salisbury project. Additional complexity will come to the process from the prioritization of the articulated changes and shifting our use of professional learning time to best prepare our staff for the implementation of the action plans.
Be sure to take 15 minutes to watch the full talk, The Surprising Truth About Learning in Schools. I’m sure Richardson’s powerful ideas will prompt some new thinking for you as they did for me. We can make “amazing” systemic!
How are your schools already amazing places for learning? How are you making “amazing” a reality in every classroom throughout the system? If you’re not the top leadership in your school or district, how do you lead up? (More on leading up in a future post…)