A archetypical tale of (and great advice for) school transformation…if you listen closely enough!
A archetypical tale of (and great advice for) school transformation…if you listen closely enough!
From “Young People Are the Geniuses Who Change the World,” Angela Maiers, Switch & Shift: Human Side of Business, 7/28/2013 [HT Angél Kytle]
At Choose2Matter, our opening line in speaking to young adults is “You Are a Genius, and the World Needs Your Contribution.” Next, we tell them they can change the world.
Why do we say this?
Because studies show that, at the age of five, 100% of students believe they can, and will, change the world. When I visit with first-graders, they always confirm this by enthusiastically charging the stage en masse when I invite them to share their genius and tell me their ambitions for changing the world.
By the age of 9, only half of students believe they are geniuses who can change the world.
By the age of 16, just 2% of students believe they are geniuses who can change the world.
When I visit high schools, I see something very different than I do in elementary schools. The genius is still there, but it’s buried under years of schooling. How? I’ve actually had educators and parents comment on my posts that we shouldn’t tell students they can change the world, because it sets unrealistic expectations. My response: unrealistic for whom?
An incredible post that then highlights nine young people who are changing the world. One of the people is Jack Andraka, whom I spotlighted on my own blog before. And there are eight more.
Correction. There are THOUSANDS more! MANY THOUSANDS!
A few more of the many – all whom I’ve met thanks to TEDxAtlanta:
Brittany Wenger, a high-school senior, is well on her way to making the diagnosis of breast cancer less painful and more accurate.
At age 20, Claire O’Connell is a co-founder of EyeWire, an online game / “citizen science initiative” that’s helping to map the human brain by mapping the connections between retinal neurons.
Kevin Salwen is a writer and entrepreneur. With his 15-year-old daughter, Hannah, he is co-author of The Power of Half. The book is the story of a eureka moment by Hannah that resulted in the Salwen family’s commitment to reduce their consumption by half — started by selling their house and moving into one half its size.
School is not just preparation for real life. School is real life. And real life could be school.
Einstein said, “It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” Survives.
How might we enable curiosity to THRIVE in formal education?
By helping school become more about the “business” of real-life, relevant work. There are armies and armies of young people who care and want to change the world. A few will demonstrate the initiative to do so in spite of the rigidity of an industrial-age school system. But how many more might be activated, inspired, and motivated IF school were structured to nurture such inherent passion for wanting to make the world a better place – while the learners are IN school?
Recently, at our school, Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, faculty T.J. Edwards (@TJEdwards62) and Mary Cantwell (@SciTechyEDU) have invited and enlisted others in our ranks who might want to work on OpenIDEO’s Creative Confidence Challenge.
What if we ALL participated?!
= = = = =
We believe that students learn best when they are . . .
- essential members of a vibrant, diverse learning community,
- immersed in challenging, real-life experiences that make a difference,
- exploring ideas, questions, and projects that are meaningful and relevant to them,
- collaborating with inspiring adults who know them well,
- given real responsibility for their education, and
- in touch with their innate wisdom and capacity for insight.
from Watershed School
Re-listening to outgoing NAIS president Pat Bassett’s TEDxSaintGeorgesSchool – Schools of the Future, I heard him say that one of his grandchildren attends The Watershed School. At 18:30, Bassett explains the way 7th graders start the school year at Watershed – with an expedition to the source of the Colorado River. Learning is based on exploration and discovery, problem finding and problem solving – real-life context in which the content is solute dissolving in solvent to form a solution.
What does your school believe helps students learn best? How are you realizing those beliefs?
Building further from this post: “Could there actually be one “C” to rule them all?!”
I am deeply curious about and invested in systemic learning and change in schools. Understandably, a great deal is written for and presented to teachers. Individual teachers. There are countless articles, blog posts and conference sessions about implementing different approaches and methods in class. I know that a number of teachers try and implement those suggestions, recommendations, and tested-by-others ideas. I have been one of those teachers – on the giving end, as well as on the receiving end – many times. I am all for that kind of learning and sharing.
But how does such adaptation and evolution happen on a systemic level? For an entire school, system, university, or network. Not every teacher at a given school is reading the same body of research and blog-posting. Not every teacher at a given school is attending the same conference sessions. Not every teacher at a given school is actually implementing the collectively designed enhancements that they have garnered for their pedagogical slice of the school pie.
Today, this has really been on my mind. I began my day re-listening to a podcast of Dan Pink’s Office Hours with Gary Hamel. It was my third listen. I will need to listen a few more times before I unpack the density and richness there, but I know that it is related in powerful ways to what I am pondering here about the systemic nature of change and evolution in a school. One thing that immediately sticks out to me is Hamel’s explanation of being “prisoners of the familiar.”
So, in a single school, some teachers remain imprisoned by the familiar, while others are breaking loose to explore, discover, and innovate new practices. Doesn’t this separate a school house? Isn’t this another kind of educational achievement gap? Didn’t Abe Lincoln say that a house divided upon itself cannot stand?
Later in the morning, I read “Five Ways to Bring Innovation Into the Classroom” by Tina Barseghian on KQED’s Mind/Shift. It is an extraordinary read! Excellent! The article contains rich links to other articles by Mind/Shift contributors, such as Shelley Wright, Kimberly Vincent, and Susie Boss. It’s the kind of post that makes me want to sprint to a classroom so that I can try that, and that, and some of that.
And then I imagined that a sub-set of teachers is reading this article and other related articles. Which I am all for! And I imagine that many of those teachers are trying what they are learning from the post and the related links. Which I am all for!
But we are developing schools within schools…and not really “on purpose” with carefully designed blueprints for what the entire, whole system could be. Is this okay? Is this sustainable? Is this why so many new start-up schools are happening? Tribes of innovators and doers are seceding from the unions to form their own countries. And in some schools, there can be real tension at the borders.
The cycle seems to continue. Schools within schools develop. The pedagogical achievement gap widens within schools. Is this what we want? Could there be a better way? Better ways?
During another Dan Pink Office Hours, I have also heard a caller explain a related issue this way, essentially citing Jim Collins – about 35% of the people in an organization tend to really know – at a deep, core level – what exactly the organization does. Not at a 10, 000 ft. level, but at a deep and detailed level. If that were a soccer team, then only 3-4 people on the team would know what game was being played when they stepped on the field at each practice or competition.
That does not seem like the best way to operate as a team. Isn’t a school a team? Granted, like a team, a school can have a variety of specialists, but they all should at least possess a common understanding of the game that is being played. And, in my opinion, the game cannot be as loosely defined as, “We teach children.” To me, that kind of mutual understanding about purpose is akin to “We are all playing sports.” But the team must know more specifically which particular sport it is playing. If a school is focusing on service learning, should there be more unified work around the methodologies of service learning? I think so. If a school is focusing on problem-based learning, should there be more unified work around the pedagogies of PBL? I think so.
Recently, at a breakfast with an amazing educational leader, we discussed master plans. Many schools invest large sums of money in campus master plans. Many schools invest large sums of money in technology master plans. Many schools invest large sums of money in strategic master plans. How many schools are investing comparable sums of money in pedagogical and professional learning master plans? Are we designing the blueprints in such a way that our builders and sub-contractors all possess a common, collective understanding of what the overall house is designed to be? If we don’t invest in such planning and purposeful construction, then why are we surprised that classrooms along a hallway can appear to be drastically different in architectural, foundational structure? And, no, I do not believe in standardizing classrooms. I am not interested in cookie-cutter construction. But I do believe that a school’s pedagogical purposes should be unified in their architectural foundations. Built on common plans, then the learning spaces can be differentiated by the equivalent of interior design and style.
A school, to some degree, ought to be a systemic whole. There are myriad ways to accomplish such unification. Exploring these myriad ways will continue to be a fundamental pursuit of mine.