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Public School 2.X (Do You Want to Build a Vision?)

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Dream for a moment about a new vision for schools. If we could wipe the slate clean and let students, parents, and teachers take the lead and share their voices, what would a public school look like? I love to ask that question of my students, and myself, considering factors I read about or hear about through social media.

Since the Committee of Ten in 1892, we’ve worked to organize student lives into eight hour days broken into specific blocks of time reserved for single silos of content, creating a factory school for factory workers. But that’s not enough for students of today. Think of your own district, and how students are affected by language barriers, economic concerns, disengagement, or emotional well-being. Could the schools in which we work benefit from extreme makeovers in facilities, mindsets, or content emphases?

While this is a lively conversation for any group of educators, it is not just an academic thought exercise, but an ongoing attempt to reimagine the future. Initiatives such as #futureready and Project XQ provide a chance to do just that. Is that enough? As a teacher, I want a robust school environment that is "teacher-powered", with lots of voice and choice for my students. I also want rigor, relationships, relevance, and a frank discussion about the stress of over-committed students and teachers in America. Having said that, here are additional factors I think are worth considering for school redesign efforts, beyond pedagogy and economics.

1. Time. For years, research on the habits of teens has told us that teens get less sleep than needed, sometimes nod off in class, and experience depression due to early start times. It might be worth considering a later start time to change the paradigm, or shift to models that focus on mastery/competency over time constraints.

Questions: Assuming this is valid, how do we change it? Would it also affect students who have 6 a.m. music practice followed by a school day and participation in an activity that requires a bus ride home at 10:30 p.m.? How committed are students of today expected to be? This conversation about school culture and time is worth having with a group of thoughtful stakeholders, especially students, coaches, and parents.

2. Community. Treating one another as we would want to be treated has found its way into civics classes, government classes, and as a community service requirement for graduation in a variety of schools. As a direct application of the Golden Rule, this seems to be fairly straightforward, but recent social events suggest we are far from a society free of prejudice.

Questions: Does mandating service give students that intrinsic motivation to volunteer later in life and treat others with respect? Do curricula that develop ideas such as civil discourse and tolerance strategies need to be interwoven into all levels of school? The research seems mixed, but perhaps that leads to a discussion of what the local community values, and how it hopes to build the neighborhood, as well as our global future.

3. Passion. The idea of "20 percent of time" focused on individual passion first gained notice as part of the Google paradigm. The school equivalent, Genius Hour, has gained some following at elementary and middle schools, but like any new initiative, it struggles from some tension between enthusiasm, definition, and structure. It’s related, in part, to the home-school phenomenon of unschooling, but also to the idea of 21st-century learning.

Questions: How can we use the insights gleaned from a well-designed Genius Hour to interweave relevancy into our current curricula? How can we use our class time to pique the interests of students to ask questions not easily packaged into one answer or even one curriculum?

4. Technology as a Tool. The promise of online learning is an opportunity to help us personalize information applications and student needs, meet in common spaces, and change the brick-and-mortar processes. However, as we are reminded in the book Blended (the follow-up concept book to Disrupting Class) empowering others to change the structure of schools is a process, not a mandate.

Questions: Are your stakeholders ready to change to new systems? What fears will you, as a teacherpreneur or administrator, have to face?

5. Student and Family Well-Being. As we move through the second decade of the 21st century, student well-being statistics are stark. According to Feeding America, 1 in 5 children in America has food-insecurity concerns, the rate of childhood obesity has doubled in a generation, and student mental, physical, and emotional health are challenges educators must face. We need to better use the available data and resources.

Questions: How do we deal with readiness-to-learn and student and family well-being? How can we reimagine the use of time and space to include families as part of the school culture, beyond organized school activities such as sports and music?

Vision Challenge

Completing the idea of a vision for future education is a great way to uncover ideas and rethink the process of culture and student needs for your local school, even if your team does not take the #futureready pledge or enter the XQ contest. Basics to consider:

How do we balance cognitive abilities with what we want students to know and be able to do? This is tough stuff. In a world of constantly doubling information, at what point do we ask students to stop memorizing and start organizing ways to use that knowledge? What pedagogies and educational strategies will help students grow as lifelong learners who have problem-solving and critical thinking skills? That’s an important question to answer.

How important is collaboration in our room, but also in our community, and with others via social media? Collaboration, communication, and connections in an increasingly flattened and pluralistic world must be part of the ideas we pursue in schools of tomorrow. How do we learn to value and work with others who are different than we are?

What will synergize us? What will help us recreate education and inspire the communities of tomorrow? Perhaps it is student and teacher voice, the desire to break boundaries or create cultural appreciation. Or is there another joy or spark?

Interested? Intrigued? You’ve already chosen to make a difference to others by becoming a teacher. You are invested in a district in which you are employed. Will you choose to make a difference and change a world system as well?

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