School & District Management Opinion

Change Schooling to Improve Student Learning

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — August 21, 2016 4 min read
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How and from where we communicate is changing. How we do our banking is changing. How we get our news and gain information is changing. Even how we get our groceries is changing for many. In the world of work outside of education, work environments are taking down walls and making borders obsolete. Some are working in open environments together and others are home, alone in a redefined work day. Innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship are all sought as attributes of those entering the work force.

Successful Hard Work
Yet, how many schools are entering a new year with new course offerings, with new schedules, new learning environments, and expectations that support the skills and abilities our students need for that ever new real world? Schools have thought that the model and practices they have been using are successful. Here is why:

While U.S. students are scoring higher on national math assessments than they did two decades ago (data from science tests are sketchier), they still rank around the middle of the pack in international comparisons, and behind many other advanced industrial nations (Pew Research).

The operative here is “still”. While the data continued to be collected, schools found themselves with less resources, a more mobile student body, a more inclusive classroom environment, and a growing ELL population to name a few. With all of those changes, schools were able to hold steady and to even raise their scores in math. That is evidence of successful work. Most of that work has been done in an old model. But since that old model worked, it is held close. What might work better moving forward?

Based upon the Pew research, we conclude there has been quite a bit of hard work. Building on that premise, what’s next? Are we preparing students for the world they are both living in as children and that they will enter upon walking across the graduation stage? How can we get students to want to be actively engaged in their learning so that more children can be experiencing success?

So Why Change?
Changing schooling is a complex endeavor. There are some aspects that are common to all schools, and others that are locally defined. Can the model that has held our international standing, and even raised our math scores a bit, continue to have success while the rest of our world continues to change? Can we allow achievement gaps to remain as they are? Are our students engaged and active learners? Are our goals for our students to graduate or to be prepared to be successful no matter their career paths? These are questions that challenge the status quo. Although being ready for college and career has been an articulated intention of education, now we have to acknowledge that the world is different and being prepared requires more and different skills and experiences.

Innovators and entrepreneurs are purveyors of optimism in the land of possibility. They are confident and experimental and persistent. They are creative and energetic and collaborative. They are risk takers and in Judi Neal’s language, edgewalkers. Educational leaders are not often described in those terms. The future is amorphous at best, but there is a confluence of forces at this moment calling educators to take a bold step, to create a new educational system (Myers & Berkowicz. p.14).

Schools do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of an interdependent community. The relationships among schools and the local and global community is revealed in this video The Social Side of Education from the Albert Shanker Institute:

If the vision for change is difficult to invoke, visit schools that have begun their journey. The relationships that are described in the video, The Social Side of Education can be developed and/or strengthened. Research and data can be gathered. Partners can be identified. Processes can be developed for the changes to be decided, shared, and begun. Communication can be improved. The manner of feedback and timing can be set. Plans for responding to opposition can be made. Emotional challenges can be identified and responses planned.

The Pathway To Educational Excellence Lies Within Each School. -Terrance Deal
What is clear is that no living organism can stay in the status quo for long. And, we don’t need mandates to be bold and innovative. In fact, mandates have discouraged those qualities within us. There is still time for educators, themselves, to lead their schools on a new path toward graduation for their students. The need is clear. The world in which we live, and in which schools sit, is in motion. The path to a new horizon line, to rethinking the vision for our schools, can be uncovered when the leaders begin the process. If not now, when? This year is the time.

Myers A. & Berkowicz J. (2015). The STEM Shift: A Guide for School leaders. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.