Student Achievement Opinion

Are You Moving Toward a New Harbor?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — September 18, 2016 4 min read
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What is your vision for your district, schools, and classrooms? It appears as a simple question, clear and straightforward and often asked. But can you easily put words to it? The reason? If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind. Lucius Annaeus Seneca, author of that quote lived from 4 BC- AD 65. Of course, man is now person or man or woman. But the notion of harbor had more widespread application back then. The harbor is both a destination and a safety zone protected from the turmoil of the open water.

In today’s environment, there is a social belief that transparency is essential demonstrated by how readily it has become an issue in the presidential election. Technological communication has made visible those communications some thought were private. The concept of privacy is eroding and so is the notion of a safety zone protected from eyes and ears and troubled waters. But a destination and clarity about it seems to have an enduring quality as something we seek in a leader.

Which Leader Are You?
For some, a leader stands above us and apart from us, in a position of authority, and guides us toward a vision. For others, leaders are one of us, inclusive in process, and highly transparent as we move toward the vision. Both can be inspiring and also can be successful. The heavy lift rests in the blending of these; the yearning for the patriarch who vowed to take care of us all and so we followed and the yearning to own a part of the leadership process with efficacy seeking a leader who will listen, include, communicate, and collaborate. Today’s educational leader is most often called to be that blended person, keeping one eye on her/his educated belief about the horizon line and the harbor and the other on the community she/he serves to attend and strengthen the coalition of followers. But, let a crisis happen and watch followers scan for an older style.

Where Are You Headed?
School communities have to be led outward and into new waters, toward a new harbor. Graduation rates and standardized tests can still play a role in informing progress, but they can no longer define the destination. Those rates and tests are no longer the only measures of success. The description of what we need to know and be able to do in order to live in today’s world has changed. The ability to discriminate between truth and fiction can be the difference between success and failure, for our students and ourselves. The ability to think critically, be creative, collaborative, and effectively communicate are the skills demanded in today’s workforce, and should be developed in today’s schools.

Communication technologies abound and the news reveals the dangers of using it even with the best of intentions. We learn of the opinions Colin Powell shared privately (?) with Condoleezza Rice, or the medical records of Olympic athletes. Hacks continue. Dangers and value must be balanced. Technology allows easy verification of what is fact, what tis truth and what is simply not but we need to have a citizenry which wants to know the difference. While we are strong proponents of STEM centric schools, we cannot overlook last week’s news about the shallow knowledge of young Americans have about geography, current events, and economics and trade. Among 18-to-26-year-olds who attend or have attended a two- or four-year college in the United States, the average score on the global literacy survey administered by the Council on Foreign Relations and National Geographic Society was just 55 percent.

What Century Are You Serving?
There are leaders who have seen the need to venture out and away from the 20th century safe harbor. Yet there remain an overwhelming number of schools and districts that are sailing around in a 20th century port. As long as the graduation rate is based upon the passage of a set number of subject/courses and some grades and tests, without adding a set number of experiences, exposures, skills, relationships, and behaviors, we remain in a century past. How, honestly, can we expect that the graduates who walk across our stages in 2017 are prepared to live and work in this century when they are prepared just like the graduates in 1990’s?

Which is Your Harbor?
Our work regarding 21st century school development is known. Our belief that schools must change and that shifting into inter- and trans-disciplinary teaching and learning, with business and higher education partners, with targeted professional development for teachers, with community support, is well known. The first thing for a leader to do is think about the harbor. Is it more destination or a safety zone? Every leader needs to know when to leave the safety zone because the world is changing and new destinations are being discovered.

There is no good reason why we should fear the future, but there is every reason why we should face it seriously, neither hiding from ourselves the gravity of the problems before us nor fearing to approach those problems with the unbending, unflinching purpose to solve them aright _ Theodore Roosevelt.

Illustration courtesy of Pixabay

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