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2 Resolutions for the New Year

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Frederick Brown

I love New Year's resolutions, even though I've made many and kept few. There was the year I decided to no longer eat white bread. Well, my love of homemade rolls (made with processed flour) pretty much squashed that resolution before I made it out of New Year's weekend. Then there was the year I promised to be a more relaxed driver. I probably could have pulled that one off if there didn't have to be other drivers on the road. Given my poor history with resolutions, it might seem odd that I'm publicly listing two I believe I can uphold this year.

1. Live and communicate the Learning Forward belief:  All educators have an obligation to improve their practice.

When Learning Forward initiated its latest strategic planning process in 2011, we made the conscious decision to settle first on our beliefs as an organization. It was our feeling that reaching consensus on beliefs would provide us with a much stronger foundation on which to review and/or revise our mission, vision, and strategic priorities. Our full set of beliefs is here: http://learningforward.org/who-we-are/purpose-beliefs-priorities

During those meetings, there was one belief that caused a significant amount of conversation among our planning group and stakeholders: All educators have an obligation to improve their practice. There was one camp that felt "obligation" was just a bit too strong. There was a call to use the word "responsibility," because somehow that felt less pushy. In the end, we stuck with obligation, and I absolutely believe that was the right choice. I feel strongly that anyone who assumes the awesome responsibility of facilitating the learning for our children unquestionably has an obligation to continue to improve their practice.

In living this resolution, I'll make sure I communicate this Learning Forward belief during any session I am facilitating. I will encourage schools and districts to establish effective systems of professional learning so everyone will have the support needed to continually improve their practice. Finally, I'll commit to continuing to seek ways to improve my own practice by engaging in a cycle of continuous improvement. 

2. Become an even stronger advocate for all children's and educators' learning.

In reflecting on this second resolution, I'm reminded of two incidents from my career. The first occurred about 12 years ago when I was taking a tour of a large high school in a high-needs urban school district. I was dressed in a suit and walking with others dressed in a similar fashion, so I'm guessing some of the students who saw us assumed we were staff from the district's central office. As we passed one particular classroom, it appeared to be in chaos. Kids were up walking around laughing and screaming, and the teacher was randomly yelling at students. All of a sudden, one of the children bolted from the classroom and approached my group. "Please...PLEASE," he cried. "I just want to learn!" I could tell from looking into his eyes that he was crying for the opportunity to participate in the very thing our institutions of learning were designed to do.

The second incident was very similar, but the learners were adults. They were attending their school district's big beginning of the year meeting where all the new initiatives were being rolled out. Throughout the auditorium I saw more blank stares than I've seen in most zombie films. Individuals were doing crossword puzzles and even knitting, and there was an apparent lack of any real learning that might actually translate into scaled and sustained new practices among the teachers and leaders in the room. When I asked one of the teachers about the meeting, she rolled her eyes and said, "This is the way we've always done it." She went on to explain how she couldn't wait to get back to her classroom and actually get ready for the start of the new school year.

In both cases, I was a witness to highly ineffective learning environments. What the student who approached our tour group didn't know was I had just come from a classroom in that very same school where the teacher was highly effective and all students appeared to be engaged. It was the room that was designated for visitors like me. That child who was begging to learn absolutely deserved that same kind of learning environment I witnessed in the school's designated showcase classroom. He deserved access to that teacher's expertise. In the case of the awful district opening meeting, those educators deserved an opportunity to actively engage in learning tied to authentic student needs, and not just on the first kick-off day.

In living my second resolution, I resolve to continue to be an advocate for standards-based professional learning systems that result in scaled and sustained effective learning environments for both children and adults. I'll also do whatever I can to call out ineffective practices and provide resources to help bring about needed changes.

If your job in any way impacts the kinds of learning environments children and adults have in your school, district, province, or state, I ask you to please consider your own "learner-centered" resolutions and share them with me and others in the comments below!

Frederick Brown
Director of Strategy and Development, 
Learning Forward

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