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The Symphony is About to Begin: A Conversation Starter

The new school year has just begun for some and for others it is just around the corner. Perhaps I have been playing too much Wii Music but as I reflect on my own experiences at this time of year it feels like I am conducting a rather large orchestra. All the various parts of the orchestra are in the wings tuning up and looking to me for direction, looking for me to raise a baton and set the rhythm and tempo of this great symphony. I will not push this analogy any further but it does capture both the sense of responsibility and the excitement I feel as I seek to clarify goals, build a common vision, and build a collaborative environment.

As I prepare to meet and talk with teachers, parents and students I always review some of my professional reading looking for a few key ideas to share. I am looking for those thing that have provided me with inspiration, or clarity but also those things that have challenged me and will encourage conversation. One of the books I have read this summer that fits this description is The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner. Through a wide range of conversations with business leaders he identifies and discusses 7 key survival skills which he considers essential for our students future. Within this context he also discusses our current educational structure and suggests some fundamental changes in pedagogy. The book deserves a much fuller summary than this and I encourage you to read it if you have not. However, for now I want to focus on a one of things that might catch your imagination and encourage conversation.

The seven survival skills in some ways are similar to other lists that have been made of essential 21st century skills but number 5 in particular has already generated great conversations among our faculty. The skills are:

1.Critical thinking/Problem solving
2.Collaboration (and leading with influence)
3. Adaptability and Agility
4. Initiative and Entrepreneurship
5. Effective Communication (both oral and written)
6. Gathering and Analyzing Information
7. Curiosity and Imagination

Initiative and Entrepreneurship-

When was the last time you used education or school in the same sentence with entrepreneurship? Interestingly, according to Dr Wagner, schools in China have been mandated to teach entrepreneurship. For sake of clarity I looked for a definition of entrepreneurship and the following definition from Bob Reiss a very interesting starting point for apply this concept to our schools and to learning.

"Entrepreneurship is the recognition and pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources you currently control, with confidence that you can succeed, with the flexibility to change course as necessary, and with the will to rebound from setbacks."

To my way of thinking the attitudes embodied in this definition represent exactly what I hope students will learn and be able to do when they leave our school. They also represent a mindset I expect of myself and hope to cultivate in my staff. I also see in this mindset an essential element for school reform. What do you think? Do you see in this definition essential skills to cultivate in our students?

If you want more information about Dr Wagner's thesis and don't have time to read the book right now you can watch a video clip here and read another discussion of his book and get a link to an interview here both of which I am confident will give you more opportunities for conversations.

Barbara Barreda

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