Schools Need to Change and So Does Society
Superintendents, principals, and teachers can find abundant professional development opportunities on the Common Core Standards, safe environments, social/emotional health, observation and evaluation, visible learning, balanced literacy, social media, data driven decision making, instructional leadership, gaming, communication, the facilitation of collaborative decision making, and coaching. But, the changes will be little, only in the classrooms or schools where the PD was sought and carried out. Little will change unless the structure of schools changes.
Educators are simultaneously creative (as they develop activities for learning and for extra-curricular opportunities) and stuck in the confines of a structure that is now centuries old. They continue to seek new ways to engage their students in learning while students are more and more distracted and uninterested. The paradox remains because the structure does not change. Schools are locked into time requirements, regulatory barriers, and contract limitations. Educators know what those requirements, barriers, and limitations are, but it seems ever so clear that educators may be the only ones who understand the problem. And, some educators hold fast to familiar limitations even though their hearts might whisper other messages.
From a student's point of view, whether 5 years old or 15, the school day, for most, is divided into sections; times when students are required to be readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, artists, athletes, musicians, and historians. A walk in a student's shoes, no matter their age or grade, easily reveals a frantic type of mind changing from one subject to the other, as the behaviors for learning in each of those areas calls for some of the same but some different brain functions. If this continues, no matter the talent of leaders and teachers...how can we possibly make changes in student achievement? We have divided our world to make it understandable and, actually, have made it unnatural. The natural world flows, erupts, gives way, finds its way through chaos and back into order.
There are places where with great effort and support, districts and schools have pushed apart the boundaries and allowed light to shine in. They develop learning opportunities for students that require interdisciplinary learning and authentic application of that learning, reflecting its place in the real world. But as mandates and policies continue to exist for minutes of instruction and separate tests for each subject, the likelihood of the possibility for interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinary and authentic application diminish. The system must change.
They Are All Our Children
New voices are being raised as the news covers those facing a long-time, hostile relationship with police. We should be listening carefully. Police and educators are the most community based public servants. Those Baltimore teenagers who looted and destroyed property as they expressed their frustrations came from high school to the streets. Educators know the power of a label. The teenagers were called "thugs" by the POTUS and the mayor. Quickly, the label was withdrawn and apologies issued. When, do the "bad ones" stop being children and become something else...become a "them", not an "us". Was anyone thinking that those "thugs" came from classrooms where teachers were attempting to teach English, algebra, geometry, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics, history, art, music, and physical education? Those students were focused on what was most important in their lives. For many, it wasn't any academic subject area; it was justice and respect. While schools are held accountable for student achievement and are spending time and money to help students meet academic standards, the focus for many students is not academic. Unless everyone comes to understand that no matter our effort, there are social issues that overshadow the efforts of even the best teachers, time and energy will be spent on the wrong thing. Criticism and blame will continue to focus on student achievement, which cannot improve without improving the society in which the children live.
Now, there are police officers charged in an apparent murder. We have much to learn yet about that awful day and the ride on which the pain of a man could be ignored by those who were to keep us all safe. The system and structures that need to change are not just in education. We can begin by attending our students' realities and understanding the pull their lives have on their attention; not just educators, but our policy and law makers, our critics and our supporters. We can begin, all of us, in our hearts, black and white, lawbreakers and the law abiding, the children and the adults. We can only move ahead if we understand how our society still divides, much like the subjects in schools. It is not a matter of trying harder, it is a matter of reinventing our systems, the structures, and the way those who work in them can do their best work. We still have far to go to get it right.