Urgent Learning Revolution: What Did I Do Today?
by Dave Dimmett
How much change has really taken place in American schools in recent years? For most of my career in education, I’ve read about and experienced first hand school reform. But, what has been reformed and how has the student experience in school changed for the better?
The case for change is compelling and clearly identified through surveys such as the High School Survey of Student Engagement. The report found "two out of three respondents (66%) in 2009 are bored at least every day in class in high school; nearly half of the students (49%) are bored every day and approximately one out of every six students (17%) are bored in every class. Only 2% report never being bored, and 4% report being bored “once or twice.” Is it any wonder students mentally and physically drop out of school. It lacks meaning and value for them.
There are a couple of things that stand out to me based on recent visits in schools in a number of states. First, students are more savvy and capable than ever. They live in a world that is more connected, complicated, and challenging than the one I inhabited as a k-12 student, and they value their time in ways that make impersonal, didactic instruction unacceptable.
While we see movement and the pockets of excellence referred to so long ago in Good to Great, we have failed to realize comprehensive, systemic improvement. Student voice in some settings is as absent as it was a decade or generation ago. Today’s young people are less willing to tolerate a world that does not make sense, as is evidenced by the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements. If we truly believe our young people are our greatest resource, we should sit elbow to elbow with them and take on our schools’ greatest challenges.
Second, teachers’ days are full. From the time they usher their own children off to school till the time they retire for the day, teachers are task-minded and focused on the multitude of responsibilities that are included in their daily work—attendance, late work, hall duty, lunch duty, playground supervision, copies, phone calls, meetings. My recent experience with Lean Six Sigma makes me wonder, what are the value-added elements of the average teacher’s day? What are the teacher activities from one day that are adding value to student learning? If I think about the full professional day for most educators, it involves tasks that likely fall into some of these categories: adds value to student learning, doesn’t add value but is required by law, doesn’t add value but is required, doesn’t add value to student learning and can be eliminated without difficulty. High performing organizations know that the world has changed and they must adapt or become irrelevant.
What would teaching and learning look like if teachers had more time devoted to developing engaging lessons and connected them to their local community or a school half-way around the world? Innovation and creativity must be developed thoughtfully and well. Do our teachers have the time and expectation to deliver on instructional excellence in this way? Transforming or even flipping the traditional classroom is work. Are we establishing the context within which teachers can experiment and develop curiosity-fostering learning spaces for our children?
Amazing teaching and learning happens every day in traditional, home, charter, and alternative schools across our country. Our communities and virtual worlds are brimming full of educators with passion who spend time daily with students who need them and us to insist on more urgency in securing the student-centered, rigorous, relevant, nimble, and connected context for learning. One of my favorite presenters, David Warlick, begins each presentation with a comment about what he learned the day before. With a nod to David and this idea of paying attention to things that matter, what did you do yesterday to advance with urgency the kind of teaching and learning that brings hope to our students and the possibility of a new American Dream?