Staying the Course to Meaningful Change
In his latest book, The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner issues a "call to action" for all those who are concerned with how we educate our students for the future. Wagner paints a compelling picture of how we should be preparing students and for the need to stop tinkering with our school systems and make meaningful and significant alterations. In the conclusion of the book, Wagner identifies three changes in our world that demand different methods for teaching and learning:
All kids need new skills to thrive in a global knowledge economy.(p. 256 - 257)
In the age of the Internet, using new information to solve new problems matters more than recalling old information.
Today's youth are differently motivated when we compare them to previous generations
And Wagner provides examples of schools where instruction and assessment have changed drastically; schools where the teachers are lifelong learners and who hold themselves and each other accountable for the learning of all students. Schools in which there is true collaboration around student work and student learning; where adults learn and work together, establish relationships with their students and with each other, and where every child is seen as a capable learner.
So, once again I am left wondering what it will take - or if it is even possible - to create a school like the ones described in a traditional public school system in this age of accountability (which I am afraid I do not see going away even with the new administration). What I did not read about in Wagner's description of these schools that appear to be breaking the mold were constraints imposed by special education regulations, by schedules and staffing decisions based on athletics, or by conflicts among the members of the school or greater community. It seems to me that the work of creating culture and developing a unified vision and building a true community of learners requires so much time, so much tenacity, and so much support - especially in the very traditional school systems that it is almost impossible to imagine real change taking place.
For me, having reached one of the milestone birthdays this year that makes one begin to think about retirement (or at least the career options after retiring from the every day grind of school administration), I wonder how much more tenacity I can muster and how I can continue to fight the good fight at the same time I work to develop better relationships with the teachers, the students, the parents, the school board, and the community. Because at this point, I feel as though all I do is battle; even after a day and a half of in-service with 67 teachers which got very positive reviews overall; even though I am seeing more people sharing ideas and thoughts about how we should be meeting the needs of kids; even though I am seeing more walls between staff coming down and people speaking up in large faculty meetings about what they think and believe. How can we maintain the momentum, nurture ourselves and others - but keep really pushing things forward to make the kinds of changes Wagner and others like him propose.
I continue to predict that education in 10 years will be much different - that it will have to be. I am even planning the redesign of our middle school with that in mind - thinking about flexible spaces and small group learning; about infrastructure that will support the high tech world; and about a structure and setting that will encourage inquiry, creation, and meaningful work for everyone. Yet, I continue to be challenged by those who can see only what education has been and only what will maintain the status quo. So what can I, a building administrator, do to at the very least keep things moving forward at least at a rate that will not leave students too far behind. And how do I develop a support system for myself, my assistant, and the others who believe we can bring about meaningful change? As much as I am trying to be patient and celebrate successes, I also have the sense that time is running out; that we are at a critical juncture and we will either break through or fall back into the "just how it is" routine of public education. Any suggestions? Mantras? Support groups?