Curriculum Opinion

Lead School Change With ‘Colliding Worlds’ Inside

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — March 29, 2015 4 min read
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It was once clearly so and is so again. School leaders are increasingly responsible in the public eye to prepare students for lives beyond the school walls. This responsibility involves addressing the needs students bring today and creating learning environments which serve them well by developing knowledge and skills they will need for tomorrow. There are challenges to that responsibility.

Change the Structure With a New Vision
A major shift in mind-set has to take place before a major shift in teaching and learning can be ignited in schools. In order for this to happen, hope and ideas need to be formed into a vision and collaborative groups energized to work towards the actualization of the vision. In this, the leader cannot work alone. If enough schools were led toward their 21st century vision, perhaps educators could take charge of the conversation and capture the attention of those questioning the value of our educational system with visible evidence of the impact changes have, or haven’t made.

In order to formulate that vision, there can be no pause in learning. New ideas, new fields, new technologies, new methodologies, new truths are exploding. Schools cannot be bastions of ‘old school’ thinking. But, let’s acknowledge that in a world where things change so rapidly, there is an unexpressed desire for some things to remain firmly planted and familiar. We cannot let that become the schools. We sit squarely between the forces demanding substantive change and those who want it be incremental at best. Many educators feel tossed about between those forces reacting rather than leading.

Schools must create flexibility in their structure before they burst. By keeping the structure the same and pushing in all the services that support children, adding to the curriculum things like 3-D printing and complex, critical current events, how is it possible to maintain this growth in the old structure? Something must be abandoned or seams break open. There are schools trying to make room, and they will move forward...but the whole shebang needs to become less filled with boundaries, and become permeable with room for teaching and learning in new and successful ways. How do we get there?

Colliding Worlds
Although this may sound like a huge idea, too huge to even think about, take art as an example. With the focus on college and career readiness, where do the arts fit in? State testing has its focus on math and English language arts, graduation requirements can’t be met without a certain level of expertise in both. Budgets are shrinking and when ‘something must go’ often the arts are diminished, not necessarily because they may not be valued in the school community, but because a focus on the ‘basics’ does not include the arts.

Reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic may remain the essential core in some people’s minds. But, this century demands thinking, interdisciplinary approaches reflective of the real world, applications of subject matter, and technology and engineering of the world beyond school walls. In these new schools, students cannot be “college and career ready” without entry into newly colliding worlds of art and science.

With the focus on the basics, what changes have taken place in art curricula in schools? In elementary school, art is hopefully a time in which students get to learn about how to create visual representations in a variety of mediums, the use of color and texture. In the secondary school this continues, all mostly in a separate space, and sometimes in high school, for only half of one year in order to meet a local graduation requirement...or maybe none.

In Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art, author Arthur I. Miller wrote:

In media art, artist and scientist are fused together. Using complex mathematics, media artists generate pleasing images. These artists are of necessity technologically savvy, and closer to the scientist than those schooled in the traditional fine arts, an area which is becoming increasingly marginalized. In this new avant-garde, the labels “artist,” “engineer,” and “scientist” are growing increasingly irrelevant, often replaced by “researcher” (pp. 114-115).

Leaders cannot create a vision with teachers and parents and students and colleagues, if they do not know what the world holds as it waits for our students to arrive at college or career. Ongoing learning is key. Becoming a Chief Learning Officer, and forming a committee whose charge is to find out what is happening in the world of work and how it should impact the work done in classrooms is a start.

Teachers and school leaders need to understand the field, but they are working in schools. Partnerships with those in the field are essential as is reading literature from other fields than education. Educators must educate and be educated. They cannot become scientists and artists or know what those careers demand. But scientists and artists in partnership with classroom teachers and the schools in which they work open an exchange in which all benefit. Professionals in the field and professionals in the schools, working together, creates the opportunity to capture the energy within the colliding worlds of art and science, science and technology, math and science, literature, history, art, and music, coding and technology, physical education, physics, and trigonometry...and the ethics that run through all of them.

But we do need to loosen our grip on the present structure and let some things fall away while newness enters.

Miller, A.I. (2014). Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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