Redefining Educational Success: Board the Correct Train, Clear the Tracks or, better yet… Blaze a Trail

Platforms sign hanging in the Foyer of Moor Street Railway Station, Birmingham, England, UK, Western Europe.

Getting where we intend to go involves taking the correct first steps or making the proper adjustments along the way.  Sometimes we head in a particular direction and realize too far down the path that we are going the wrong way.  This is happening right now in education.  Currently, multiple educational trains are running simultaneously, and most are hoping to arrive at the same general destination – success.

Success has many definitions, but for purposes of this discussion, we will define success as ‘desired outcomes’.  As parents, most of us hope our children will learn what they need to learn in order to do what they hope to do in life.  So we send them off to school to begin the journey to his or her best possible future.   Thus, our educational train station has several trains taking different routes to arrive at destination success.  Almost all of these trains include the college doorstep as the gateway to the brightest futures.   On the platform, we find independent trains, public trains, college preparatory trains, alternative trains, traditional trains and progressive trains.  When the whistle blows, each train sets out on predetermined tracks to the much desired land of opportunity called higher education.

Recent publications such as Most Likely to Succeed (Wagner & Dintersmith) and Creative Schools (Sir Ken Robinson) point out clearly that the problem we face today is not about the destination (college or future success), the passengers (our children) the engineers and conductors (the educators and families) or the trains themselves (our schools).  Our trains are doing what they were designed to do, riding on the tracks on which they were built to travel.  Instead, the problem rests with our actual infrastructure.

Automobiles and highways disrupted the train travel industry in the same way that education is being disrupted today.  The real problem in education rests with one obstacle on the collective tracks that is actually derailing the whole journey: the college admission process (not college itself).  The college admission process has forced strange changes in education over the last decades, and none of those changes have yielded positive results.

Simply stated, since the early 1980s, more students have looked to enroll in college (great news).  Colleges have enjoyed the benefit of rising tuitions and rising applications (seemingly great news).  The new normal for students and families is that they are expected to go to, and pay for, college (potentially bad news if this becomes too expensive).  With this amazing increase in the number of college attendees, our society and our industries should be booming, right?  Opportunity should exist all around.  If not, where have we gone wrong?

The truth is that opportunity does exist all around and we haven’t gone too far down the wrong path.  This could be an amazing time to be a student and an educator if we regroup, remove obstacles on our current tracks, and perhaps, even blaze new trails. This requires courage and the ability to see that the emperor is not wearing any clothes. The default emperor here is the college admission process and the standardized testing industry.

Quality education and college attendance remains vital to our society’s success.  The process of getting in the college door should not deprive students of the very skills they will need to thrive once enrolled and graduated. Similarly, the process should not deprive parents and teachers of our very purpose.  Quality education involves assessments not capable of being standardized.  As noted in Most Likely to Succeed: 

“Every child in America is at risk. Student after student in school after school, spend their school hours bored, covering irrelevant material, doing mindless tasks, taking far too many ill-conceived standardized tests, and having the creativity and innovation schooled out of them.” (p.58)

The testing industry has indirectly derailed what was once fantastic about our schools.

Every day I see preschool families who want their children to be given more academic work and less time on the playground because they believe it will help prepare them for long term success.  The evidence is clear that it will not.  Young children’s brains and bodies benefit most from the natural things they were designed to do at this age – creative play, outdoor exploration and discovery.  Research shows that making our preschools ‘more academic ‘ produces long term harm.  Instead, there has been a decline in gross and fine motor skills, attentiveness, creativity, general well being and academic accomplishment in children.  We can thank the testing emperor for this result because parents and schools have gotten the message to board the wrong train, or to board it too soon for fear of being left behind.

This trend has become magnified in K-12 education where the quest for the untarnished, straight “A”  record has parents and schools forgetting the golden rules of parenting and teaching.  The culture of anxiety has prompted unhealthy behaviors such as cheating, grade inflation, lessened accountability, finger pointing and wrongful criticism.  School leaders field fearful questions regarding curriculum choices, acceleration plans, grades earned and homework loads, not because the research shows it is warranted, but because of the role of the emperor.

Today’s elementary school parents fear that “Cs” on the report card now mean “C’s” on the transcript later, which, in turn,  means fewer college opportunities.  This fear has prompted parents to take ownership of the learning process at a very young age.   Nervous parents place pressure on their children, and their children’s teachers, for “A’s”.   As a result, children are divested from this high stakes process.  They become passive, reporting that, “my mom didn’t put my homework in my backpack”, rather than owning any sense of accountability for the work, and ultimately, the grade.  Somewhere along the line  ‘the grade’ has become synonymous with ‘the value’  of the human child rather than a separate measurement for the quality of the work produced.   The “A” child has become a symbol of good parenting, not a reflection of true learning.  By creating the expectation that only A’s are valued, we rob schools of meaningful tools to guide student progress. Educating Millenials in the Anxiety Era: Getting Real November 2014

Our educational trains are speeding rapidly on the the tracks, curving at the will of the emperor sitting smack dab between where we are and where we want to be.  If we have identified the emperor as the testing industry and the clerical need for colleges to process the rising number of applicants, what can we do about it?  We must clear the way for a worthwhile educational journey and safe passage to future opportunities.

To do this we must emphasize the true purpose of an education and take steps to either get obstacles off the predetermined track or blaze a new trail all together.  To remove the obstacle, our naked emperor, we could do three things.

  1. Identify the culprit –  publicly acknowledge that the threads that have been spun have not created suitable attire for anyone, much less our future generations.  Standardized testing and memorization of mountains of content knowledge are not the tickets to long term success.  The testing industry and politicians have been spinning that yarn for too long. Our job is to state this in books, documentaries, blogs, parent teacher conferences, community meetings, task forces, backyard barbecues and grocery stores. Doing so will increase awareness and accountability.
  2. Adjust the track – work around the obstacle by separating the college admission/testing process from the entirety of the educational experience.  As long as the naked emperor remains a necessary evil to getting in the college door, design systems fair to students and families in the meantime.  Preschool playground time must not be sacrificed for SAT and ACT vocabulary practice.  Test prep can remain test prep at the high school level, but advanced science courses should be more about real science experiences rather than memorization.
  3. Blaze a New Trail-  Be the new Henry Ford, Amelia Earhart,or Steve Jobs.  If the trains or the tracks are not the best route, build new ones. Parents can partner with teachers, schools can partner with colleges and colleges can partner with industry.  We can all get in this together to shake off the structures that no longer serve us.  The freedom to rethink is powerful thing.  It is time to remember that we’ve always had the power to boldly go where no man has gone before.  We simply need the courage to speak up, stand up and get moving.
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School and The Aha Moment: Making Way for Good Ideas

Newton Second LawThe purpose of attending school is to learn.  Learning is about skills and ideas.  Each school, according to its mission, cultivates different types of learning.  Some concentrate on college-level content, others: skills, and more recently, some are now making more room in the curriculum for creativity. Recognizing that students cannot flourish on consumption of preexisting knowledge alone, more attention is now being directed at the science of learning.

As we understand more about our complex brains, we are able to identify patterns. Our brain waves have five primary frequencies: alpha, beta, theta, delta and gamma. Each frequency has different characteristics, and all are apparently essential for high level functioning.

Alpha waves signal deep relaxation, during states of daydreaming or light meditation.

Beta waves are present during normal waking consciousness and indicate a heightened state of alertness, logic and critical reasoning.

Gamma waves are the most newly discovered, are the fastest,  and relate to moments of insight

Delta waves are the slowest, present during deep sleep 

Theta waves indicate a state of light sleep or deep meditation, the realm of your unconscious mind.

brainwaves1

The key to our highest levels of functioning depend on the balancing and interplay of these frequencies.  It is possible, according to the data, to train our brains to achieve desired results. Legendary moments of insight such as Newton’s apple, Einstein’s streetcar, and Archimedes bath,  share the common thread of ‘down time’.  Researchers now know that great moments of insight are more likely to occur when certain patterns are present.  The formula looks something like this:

intense study of a concept leading to an impasse + relaxing and clearing the mind = moment of insight

 The take away from this research for educators is simple, students must be allowed time in school to both think deeply and relax the brain.  New world skill sets hinge on mastery and creative thought.  Independent schools in particular, without the bondage of mass standardized testing and data consumption, are in a great position to foster the highest level of academic balance.  According to Tina Barseghian,  in the article, “Why Schools need to Change”, the best way to maximize the brain work accomplished in schools is in five specific areas:

  1. PROJECT BASED LEARNING. Project-based learning has shown to be a much more effective way to think about learning, “particularly when you live in a world that’s incredibly unclear on what content is going to be relevant in not just 10 or 20 years, but in three years,” she said. “Over and over business leaders say kids need to be collaborative, work across time zones and cultures because problems are so complex.”
  2. ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENT. “You don’t have the opportunity to show what you know in a regular school because standardized tests that are mandated only show what some kids know, but leave out a whole bunch of kids who aren’t able to show what they know in different ways,” she said. We should have alternative criteria for gauging students’ knowledge and ability to show what they know.
  3.  SCHEDULING. Neuroscience research on sleep is becoming more compelling by the day, particularly around depression, Levine said. “We’d always thought fatigue is symptom of depression, but now it’s looking more like lack of sleep causes depression, and that’s something looked at seriously.” Kids needs nine hours of sleep, and if schools were in synch developmentally with teenagers, should would start at 10 a.m., especially when kids enter adolescence. Teachers should also coordinate their exams with each other to ensure that students are not taking multiple tests on the same day.
  4. CLIMATE OF CARE. Research shows that kids do better in classes where teachers know their names and say hello to them, and when they have their own advocates or advisers at school. “Almost every private school has advisory, a person for each kid to go to,” Levine said. “But in public schools, there are just a few counselors for a thousand kids or more. By the time you’re hitting high school, you need someone apart from parents to test ideas with, to kick around problems, a go-to person who a kid feels knows them.”
  5. PARENT EDUCATION. Well-meaning parents are confounded with how to approach managing their kids’ times. Kids needs playtime, downtime, and family time, Levine said. “We’ve robbed kids at each stage of childhood and adolescence of tasks that belong in that particular stage,” she said. “You can’t push kids outside their developmental zone and expect them to learn. You want to push them towards the edge of it, but not over.”

Accelerating the glacial pace of educational change is challenging for institutions, but it can be done.  We have the data and we have the opportunity to improve the connection between schoolwork and true brain work.  There is no better time than here and now.  Except perhaps near an apple tree somewhere….

Social Meania: Yik Yak, Snap Chat and Other Grenades our Young People are Playing With

Social Meania          I have always been a progressive educator when it comes to allowing open access to responsible internet resources that engage students.  Since 1997, when the internet was a brand new tool for schools, our school pioneered many programs on mission to inspire youth.  While I still believe in the multiple blessings of the online universe, its curse is now feeding on our children and gaining strength.

The darkness of some social media sites and apps reflects typical and atypical behaviors. What is pressing about the current problem is the new anonymity and blatant exploitation of young minds by corporate and venture capital groups out to make a buck at our children’s expense.

I am not talking about relatively responsible sites like Facebook and Twitter.  I am talking about sites that make it impossible to trace bad behavior online, sites that use that angle as their primary purpose for existence. I am talking about the people making money from these sites while refusing to accept responsibility for the site’s psychological design.

To use Yik Yak as an example, let’s assume that the founders of Yik Yak are great young people with a vision.  Let’s also assume that the founders intended no ill will, yet the site’s architecture and advertising tag lines focused on geography and anonymity. Why those features together in a gossip app?

In June of 2014, The Wall Street Journal highlighted the fact that $10 million dollars of venture capital had been raised for the app, noting also the controversy about Yik Yak’s potential harm for bullying.  http://blogs.wsj.com/venturecapital/2014/06/30/yik-yak-raises-10-million-to-move-beyond-being-a-gossip-app/

Previously, before this large outflow of money toward the venture, many articles had highlighted Yik Yak’s misuse.  On March 11, 2014, Diana Graber, a blogger for the Huffington Post, published a blog about Yik Yak’s dangers.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-graber/3-things-kids-need-yik-yak_b_4941478.html.  Yik Yak took some action and she subsequently posted an update on March 26, 2014 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-graber/yik-yak-app-makers-do-the_b_5029679.html.  All of this precedes the $10 million dollar investment in the company.

These ‘geo fence’ limitations and other restrictions may or may not be effective over time, but in April 2014, shortly after these safeguards went into place, another article was published by NYMag.com.  The article contains offensive language but highlights the danger of the app and details the trauma caused by teenagers at a school using the social media app.  http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/04/gossip-app-brought-my-high-school-to-a-halt.html.  On October 7, 2014, USA Today published this article by Daniel P. Finney regarding the explosive potential for misuse of the app. http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/10/06/yik-yak-app-campus-concerns/16802255/

Profit is not a bad thing; venture capital is not a bad thing; social media is not a bad thing, but what is wrong with this picture? The truth is that all of the articles above contain useful information for parents and educators about what to do to safeguard children.  Even those of us struggling to do ‘all of the above’ and teach children about responsible digital citizenship, are not able to keep up with the shifting landscape.

Even the most liberal among us recognize that our children cannot fully grasp the responsibilities associated with tremendous freedom.  Our options as parents and educators seem to be as follows:

  1. Sacrifice the potential benefits of online resources due to its potential threats.  Essentially, give up and ban all independent access until a certain age. Or
  2. Continue to educate kids regarding the safe use of the information highway even though many of our young people cannot reach the pedals, or even see over the steering wheel, but are nonetheless in the driver’s seat. And, or
  3. Educate ourselves on ways to keep offenders off the roads well traveled by our kids.  Employ training wheels and driver’s permits in the form of constant supervision, pressure on developers to mandate safeguards, and pressure on adults that shamelessly fund exploitative apps.

I plan on adopting options two and three, but I’m not going to lie and say it is going to be easy.  Temporary use of option one may be required. Together we must all keep this conversation going.  Who is in the best position to act? Investors? Educators? Parents? Legislators?  All of us must do something other than stick our head in the sand and watch our kids get hurt playing with hazards we know little about. These sites are modern day plagues, driven by all the wrong motives.

As a believer that good always triumphs over evil, even I recognize that it is irresponsible to take a stroll in a beautiful mine field. The digital universe, and its tools,  have much to offer, but the problem here is that our children are on the front line, going in before we get there.  We cannot teach them the tricks, the ins and outs of these apps with our wise old brains.  Instead, we are calling out to them from a place of irrelevance, a non-user too old to ‘get’ what happens in their world.

Today, as a parent, as an educator, and as a citizen, I promise to do what I can to promote independence in young people without exposing them to too much too soon.  As a lawyer, even I cannot find good resources regarding the potential responsibilities of those who make these apps but clearly disclaim liability for their misuse.  It seems to me that any human online deserves some freedom to be anonymous in certain situations, but is there a reason not to be traceable?  To have your digital tracks literally disappear?  So that even law enforcement cannot protect someone’s safety?  What are the good reasons for those freedoms?

I ask these questions because I really don’t know the answers and I’m seeing young people get hurt every day.  I want to be a part of the solution, anyone else up for a stroll in a minefield?

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/15-sites-and-apps-kids-are-heading-to-beyond-facebook

Time Out! Turning Time Saved into Memories Earned

Time to think  For most adults, and even children, finding time is increasingly difficult.  It seems ironic that the inventions we have created to ‘save time’ have not actually had that effect.  Rushing around each day, in this era of technological conveniences, we have to ask,  what has happened to  the phantom time we have allegedly saved?    Let’s take the example of the fax machine.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980s, the fax machine was heralded as an amazing time saver.  We marveled at the fact that tasks formerly taking weeks to complete via traditional mail, could now be executed in an instant!  Voila! Hooray for people everywhere!   With such increased efficiency, our industries could move on from tedious transactional matters to the really important stuff.  Productivity would increase and, at the same time,  families would enjoy richer, more meaningful lives.  In the decades that have passed since the arrival of this time-saving machine, where did all of our ‘time saved’ go?

Turns out we didn’t ‘save’ time at all.  We found ways to do everything faster, but perhaps not better.  We now engage in a permanent state of action, leaving even less time for reflection. In contrast, our old fashioned ‘snail mail’ carried the benefit of a well crafted letter with a personal touch.  Delay brought reflection, anticipation, and planning- essentially, real brain work.  It turns out that the rhythm of life matters.  Experts agree that children benefit deeply from a state of ‘boredom’.   So do grownups.  We all need a time out; time to recharge, reflect and connect with our slower side.     http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/raise-great-kids/intellegent-creative-child/boredom-busters-good-for-kids.

Balancing instant gratification with the benefits of waiting is the new challenge of our era.  IKEA capitalizes on the idea of ‘old as the new new’ with a clever ad about its ‘bookbook”.

IKEA-Bookbook-Screen-750x415   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Syd1pKOJ__k   This ad reminds us that sometimes not everything in our lives has to be improved in the name of progress.  ‘More’ and ‘faster’ do not always equal ‘better’.  In this regard, we have to wonder if the modern approach to homework in the name of progress is having its intended result.  As our children suffer endless hours of additional homework (after a seven hour school day)-we have to ask ourselves,  are they turning out to be better educated than earlier generations because of it?  Have we truly advanced as a society by adding more to our already full schedules?

GPS PK3Seizing the day involves mindfulness.   We must do more with our time saved to make memories earned.  Memories are our biological time machines.   From the millions of seconds that pass by unnoticed in our lives, a few special seconds hold our hearts and stay imprinted in our mind.  We are able to revisit the places and times where we paused, giving our full attention to an experience rather than mindlessly performing a task.  Making memories with our personal time machines requires proper programming with scheduled time outs.  Educationally, leaders need to build structures that require balance.  Our planning must prioritize:

  1. Quality over quantity.  Modern education is about formulating the right questions.  Avoid mindless memorization of disconnected content.  Rethink time assigned to homework.
  2. Experience over dissemination.  Create multi-sensory, real world experiences that will become memories for our children.  Think field trips, not lectures.
  3. Personalization over standardization. One size doesn’t fit all, ever.
  4. Growth mindset over a fixed mindset. The world of information is constantly changing, as well as our ability to influence it.  All of us can become stronger, smarter and more capable if we practice and examine our technique.
  5. Fast and Slow.  Efficiency and engagement are essential.  So too are reflection and relaxation.

brainMemories are the brain’s way of prioritizing information.  They are the largest files in our complex, living filing cabinets because they involve more than facts. They involve feelings.  Science tells us that memories don’t exist in a place in our brain, they exist as a process of time travel.  Our minds recall experiences based on our both our emotions and perceptions (essentially our five senses).   This is why I can still smell the bread my grandmother used to bake, I can see her kitchen and remember us laughing at the table.  I cannot remember all 50 state capitals, but I understand the causes of the civil war because my teacher at the time created a wonderful role-playing activity that involved me riding a pretend horse named Rusty.   Memories are our way of bringing the past into the future.

As helpful as the fax machine and its web based successors have become regarding instantaneous communication, these same tools don’t save our time.  We the people must do that.  We must choose to plan a picnic with our loved ones (sans technology) just to watch the clouds.  This makes way for inspiration.  In the end, it is the time savored that will forever be our own.

 

Making Moves: Changing the world one thought, one act, one moment at a time…

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Change happens when we choose it.  This fact becomes clear when watching the ALS ice bucket challenge gain traction. What made this challenge so successful?  Two things: the worthiness of the cause coupled with its simple call to action. Most of us want to help worthy causes.  The disconnect happens when we aren’t sure exactly how to get involved.

Early adopters of most good causes have faith that raising awareness will inspire others to get involved.  Charitable organizations develop wonderful messaging but often do not create a direct connection to action beyond explaining how to donate.  The brilliance of the ALS campaign is its emotional authenticity and its accessible,  personal call to action.  The story of Pete Frates, The Original Ice Bucket Challenge emotionally moved us,  but it was the added challenge of the personal nomination process that turned a worthy cause into a fundraising phenomenon. 

We saw how important raising awareness became.  We saw how easily we could take part.  Phone with video? Check.  Ice? Check.  Bucket? Check. Friends to nominate for the challenge? Check.  ALS online donation site? Check.  Done.  Doing good feels good.  It especially feels good when the world is with you.      So how do we learn from this wave of goodness?

We teach ourselves and our children that one good thought inspires one good act.  In turn, it is the collective force of those individual thoughts and actions that change the world.  It simply cannot happen otherwise.  

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

Inspiration- Why Every School Needs its own Mr. Keating

 keating001No matter what we choose to do in life, we all need inspiration.  Whether we are teaching a class, writing a blog, or solving world problems, inspiration is the bridge between our thoughts and our actions.  The definition of ‘inspiration’ is ‘to infuse into the mind; to communicate to the spirit’.   In this sense, inspiration is the fire to our rocket, the ‘giddy up’ to our wagon, and the ‘go‘ to our ‘on your mark, get set‘.   

It moves us.  So, in order to take ourselves and our children to the next great adventure, we need to be sure that inspiration remains an essential component of any educational experience.  All schools have great kids.  All schools have valid content to teach, and they have some good teachers to teach it.  Most schools have nice facilities, technology access and the support of their community.  So what is it that makes any school a great school? It is the ability to cultivate inspiration.

Outcomes in the real world depend on the ability to move thoughts into actions, the intangible to the tangible.  Everything else is an unwritten symphony, an unopened book, and an unsung song.  Thus, school leaders can do three things to create room in a school community for inspiration:

  1. Hire ‘fire starters’ not arsonists.  Every school culture needs those souls who breathe life and warmth into ideas.  We need also to avoid those who prefer the ashes and the cold.  
  2. Respect the individual journey.  Every person in the building hears a different call to action;  honor this diversity.  Model the behavior you seek.  Listen, encourage, and excite.
  3. Play.  Life, and most aspects of it, are supposed to be fun.  Yes, we need to work hard, but when we are doing something that we believe in, particularly with people we care about, even the mundane parts of the work can be fun.  Snow White and Mary Poppins were keenly aware of this fact.  Whistling while we work,  with a spoonful of sugar,  helps us get moving.  

Inspiration transforms.  Without it, we have stacks of facts, and mountains of ideas- but no results.  All of us have the potential to be our own version of a Ms. or Mr. Keating,  We each have the power to put the ‘carpe’ into our ‘diem’.  Who knows?  Maybe someday the next Morgan Freeman, Robin Williams, Edward James Olmos, or Michelle Pfeiffer will get the call to play one of us in the next educational blockbuster.  It could happen….

 

One Size Fits None- Why Educational Standardization Doesn’t Fit and What We Should Do About It

Little Business WomanTrends, by definition, come and go.  While the world of fashion revolves around this premise, the world of education needs a different foundation.  For the last several decades, the valid push for accountability in schools has led to an unintentional disaster regarding student learning outcomes.  Beginning in the 1990s, some very smart people with very good intentions made two very big mistakes.  These mistakes, in the educational realm,  rank about where polyester, leg warmers, and shoulder pads do in the fashion industry, but with obviously more serious fallout.  What were these mistakes?  Mistake number one: thinking a standardized test can measure anything meaningful; and, mistake number two: implementing a lower level, standardized curriculum to solve poor results from mistake number one.

Since their inception, standardized tests have not improved learning outcomes.  Award winning educational reporter, Peg Tyre,  has researched the the testing trend, noting, 

“In addition to the amount of time given over to tests, schools were dumbing down what was taught so more kids would pass. As structured, standardized tests don’t include questions that demand complex analysis, synthesis, or higher order thinking. Instead, the questions are pulled from the bottom third of the curriculum.  http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/06/25/standardized-testing-culture-america-how-did-we-get-here.

Since standardized tests aren’t the accountability answer, how else can we measure whether our schools are effective? In order to shift our focus, we need to revisit basic questions about education and its purpose.

Most cultures create educational systems to prepare youth for adult lives.  The assumptions therein imply that there are certain things every adult in a society should know, and this remains true.  What is unclear, however, in our more complex world, is exactly what our children’s adult lives will look like.

 Across the globe and across time, it is undisputed that our children must understand what they read, express thoughts in written and artistic forms, calculate, produce solutions, create, and collaborate.  What remains disputed are the specifics regarding what they should read, write, express, calculate, produce and create.  Attempts to standardize this process are ludicrous. Measuring  mastery of complex skills is best done by demonstration and cannot be done at all in en mass.

Therefore, if we agree that accountability is important, and we also agree that meaningful large-scale standardized assessment isn’t possible, what are we left with?

The call to action is threefold:

  1. Rethink basic assumptions. Accountability = Good.  Standardized testing as the primary tool = Bad.
  2. Re-imagine accountability.  Let’s ask ourselves who and how.  Regarding Who: Since most standardized testing was created for political purposes as a data source, let’s examine this practice as related to it’s origin.  Who should be evaluating the effectiveness of our schools? National Politicians? Local politicians? Educators? Employers? Parents? Students? All or some of the Above? Regarding How: If standardized tests can’t keep us accountable, what can? In the pre-testing era, accountability measures seemed to be tied to real-world indicators such as employment rates, graduation rates, industry success etc.  An alignment between what our society needs and what our kids produce seems more important than disconnected data.
  3. Reinvent assessment. Learning demonstrations are far more accurate measures than grades or test scores.  With the tools available to us today, we can actually record evidence of whether a child can read, express herself, calculate, collaborate, solve problems and create.  If the assessment issue revolves around seeking to create a ‘one-size-fits-all’ mass data driven assessment tool, isn’t it time to realize we are barking up the wrong tree? Learning outcomes are as individual as our learners.  Thought leaders in education have long since seen this as an essential shift for 21st Century schools.  One such leader, Pat Bassett, former President of NAIS, stated in 2009,  “It makes one wonder if all the emphasis on standardized testing shouldn’t be moderated significantly with much more emphasis on demonstrations of learning, tangible “output” that can be collected and in each student’s lifelong digital portfolio. It also makes one wonder what assessments for the 21st century might look like in general.” – See more at: http://www.nais.org/Magazines-Newsletters/ISMagazine/Pages/Demonstrations-of-Learning-for-21st-Century-Schools.aspx#sthash.HVBBWwff.dpuf

As we bravely look toward educational transformation, we need to be prepared to let go of practices that do not serve the end to which they were created.  After all, we were willing to let go of shoulder pads and leisure suits in the name of better fashion- why would we force our children to endure the perpetual educational equivalent of  polyester?  Let’s place those tests in a glass museum, right next to John Travolta’s famous white suit.  

 

 

 

 

 

3 Key Strategies Learned as an Educational Pioneer-

Scottsbluff NebraskaBeing first isn’t always synonymous with winning, but being brave enough to follow a dream is an incredibly valuable experience.  My family founded a school in south Florida in 1997.  The most powerful lessons I’ve learned from this endeavor are worth sharing with you.  If you are an educator,  and if you are reading this, you are most likely doing something interesting at your school.

We founded our school at a time when the internet was a brand new word.  Our founding vision centered on creating a personalized educational experience for students utilizing the power of these amazing new tools and portals.  We did our homework, built our buildings, bought our computers, planned our infrastructure, designed our networks, hired our teachers, installed our video conferencing equipment, and opened our doors to 130 children.

We became a culture of builders- trying new things, implementing what worked and letting go of what didn’t.  We made mistakes, but the surprising success of it all was the connectivity of our pioneering culture.  Pioneers are trailblazers, a group of brave souls with a unique set of attributes that make the impossible possible.  They are visionaries, doers and dreamers. Speaking from the perspective of an early settler who headed west toward the ed tech horizon, these three strategies should help those of you packing your wagons right now:

  1. Invest in humans.  The only thing certain is change.  Your heaviest investments should not be in equipment, but in humans that make great use of any tools they have. All planning should center on training and outfitting your teaching staff.
  2. Accept failure as being a step closer to success.  Trial and error is the only way anything gets done.  Be patient, and embrace the sentence, ‘What can we learn from this?
  3. Remember that you are planting trees. As the adage goes, ‘ a society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they will never sit.‘.  Your gift to the world may not be the perfect educational institution, but it will most certainly be in the joy of trying to do so.

You may be familiar with the the notion that ‘you can always spot a pioneer as the one with arrows in his back lying face down in the dirt’, but our experience has been otherwise.  Today, our school is happily growing into itself, our dreams keep moving us forward, and we are forever bound by our collective efforts to build the future.  One act, one thought, one student at a time. Be brave and go west- just watch out for a few arrows.  Not many, I promise.

Carpe Diem: What is Happening at Grandview Prep Blog

 

Making Space- A Universal Educational Truth

Little girl making chestnuts creaturesThis week I had my own face to face encounter with a universal truth.  Universal truths, by and large, are everywhere, often cited and recited, but rarely actually experienced.  The truth I met this week came packaged in its usual disguise, my Twitter feed.  I have come to view this feed as the metaphoric river in Siddhartha, the constantly changing, yet timeless flow of all that is.  

Each droplet in my feed appeared, at first blush, as the infinite source of wisdom.  I could not possibly let this link flow by without reading it, in its entirety, right now.  But wait, the next one looked to be even more enlightening, no, wait, the next one… this process continued until I realized that my summertime quest for learning could not be satiated.  Certainty,  in this ever flowing stream, could not exist: certainty comes from within.

Before giving in completely to my anxieties regarding best practices for maker spaces, I took a deep breath and summoned my inner zen, thinking about Herman Hesse’s words, “One must find the source within one’s own Self, one must possess it”.  The universal truth I met on Monday in my twitter feed is simply that knowledge cannot be poured into a full cup.  Space must be made to experience truths from where one stands.  It is not possible to chase a thought downstream and expect it to be meaningful.  Meaning regarding all knowledge comes from personal perspective.  

Making space in my mind and in my school for the right ‘maker space’ elements will be a process. There is no ‘one way fits all’ approach.  The nuggets flowing by in my twitter stream will find their way where they belong.  Some bits of wisdom will be helpful today, others helpful tomorrow.  The learning journey connects us, literally and metaphorically, through the quest itself.  Enlightenment isn’t a nugget in the flowing stream, it is a process of perspective.  It is not what we see but how we see that counts.