Best BITs: What should school look like?

Zac Chase and Chris Lehmann ask us:

  • What do you think school should be doing?
  • What is the role of school in the modern world?
  • What does success look like?

Leah Kearney, Kristy Luker and I took these questions apart a bit.  Here’s how it went:

LEAH: I posed this very question to my Faculty of Education students last year and was struck by their hesitancy to answer the question. The movement to create modern schools that serve our students goes beyond laptops and tablets (although they are certainly part of the discussion) and addresses the rapid societal changes that we are undergoing. How can we best create places of rich inquiry and learning, collaboration, wonder and dare I say… joy? I cringe when I hear that are goal is to create students that society needs, it seems to me like our goals need to be loftier.

ALANNA: I found your part about the hesitancy of teachers (new and old!) to respond to ring very true!  In fact, I think that very question is probably what causes the most ripples in our leadership team.  We re-worded our school’s core values last year and this is what we came up with after 3 meetings…and I’d love your response:

We do what’s best for each student by:

Having a culture of collaboration,

Continually striving to improve our practice,

Purposefully designing for deep understanding

LEAH: I read and re-read your school value statement and was struck by a few things; the simplicity, the accountability and the call to action. What was the process like of trying to distill all of your ideas into something so succinct and compelling. How will you use the statement as a marker of your actions? So often mission statements are laboured over and then forgotten. Keen to hear how your staff is using it to shape practice.

ALANNA: I think that the process of having a group of disparate but motivated teachers hashout and rehash why these things are really important was a very valuable experience.  I really struggle though to see how these statements are going to actually drive us…and the reason is that they aren’t really any different than what we’re already doing.  So there is no striving forward.  There’s just status quo.  In fact the team of teachers that developed the statements has almost evaporated and been reborn with new teachers in these leadership roles…so we have a new group of people who aren’t personally connected to our core values.  But such is the way of public education in Ontario in the year 2016!  Out of 100 staff we have 25 who are LTO and they are not nearly as informed or experienced or committed as the contract teachers, even though they would desperately like to be hired!  For the first time in my career, I’m starting to see the cycle repeat itself and I’m feeling old (at the age of 44!).  I totally see the necessity of repeating the valuable process for each invested stakeholder, but I’m not sure I want to.

Instead I’m using these core values as a springboard for my own work this year.  I’d like to begin to curriculum map the whole school with these concepts in mind:

  • inquiry
  • reflection
  • 21st century competencies

What are we already doing in our school? What gaps do we have?  Where are the redundancies?  And can I develop tools to help teachers and students to fill in those gaps?  Can I see a continuum in our school of these concepts and if not can I help support the development of a continuum?  These are my burning questions.

KRISTY: What should school look like? – Oh my! In my current role as a Gifted Itinerant teacher working in a Maker space that question certainly calls into question the physical space aspect of school. Our classroom has flexible work spaces, different pockets of spaces to work in that address various learning needs (quiet living room area, busy maker space, a kitchen for gathering). Do I think that every space has to look like my space. No. I think that different Maker spaces can look different. However,  a common thread woven among each Maker Space would be that the spaces allow for flexible groupings, that the room highlights various learning styles, that the space encourages students to take risks and make mistakes. I envision a space that values a multitude of disciplines and allows students the opportunity to pursue their own learning needs, when desired, independently from the group.

What should school be doing? – I LOVED the idea addressed in the book of building citizens rather than marketable employees. I believe that schools should be developing critical thinkers who respect the opinions and ideas of others. I believe that schools should empower individuals while teaching students how to think collaboratively. I believe that schools should help students understand and develop their strengths instead of focusing on fixing deficits.

What is the role of the school in the modern world?I know much of what I said above could fit here too, but I also see schools as creating informed citizens who understand World Issues and have the creativity, knowledge, problem solving skills, confidence and ability to work with others to solve them. I don’t mean just through paid employment, but through everyday actions, choices, activities etc. Additionally, school should assist in developing (along with the family) citizens that value themselves and the others around them for the various “gifts”, “skills”, “abilities” that they have.

What does success look like? – At my Leadership course this evening my table group and I got into a discussion about data. I am not sure that quantitative data alone can measure the success of a school. I personally love qualitative data, and appreciate the push for educators to begin looking at a model of triangulation of data when assessing students. Unfortunately, measures such as EQAO have not yet caught up to where we are in respect to assessment in the classroom and therefore many schools and educators continue to struggle with how to interpret the quantitative data that is provincially collected on their students. As a mother, I gauge the success of my own children by their feelings and emotions. When my primary aged children skip happily to the bus every morning and return home telling me about their day – then success in some form has occurred!

ALANNA: You’ve really got my mind going here.  At our PD day last week we got to hear the inspirational Sandra Herbst revisit the triangulation of data with us…but your comments here have made me wonder why we don’t collect conversations/observations and products about our own teaching environments and classes.  I think a lot of I do each day would support your thoughts about school in the modern world…I’d just add that we need to give them authentic experiences as often as possible.  Maybe in those authentic experiences come the skills that students will need to market themselves to go along with their learning portfolios.  I graduated in the doldrums of the economy in 1994 and I still regret not having more practical skills to get me through …I really struggled to value and market my education skills. I guess it’s the “prepare for a zombie apocalypse” side of me that worries that our kids don’t know how to raise their own food, etc. in the case of an impending disaster.  I often think…what would Chris Hadfield do?  He’d prevent the crisis by proactively making sure that his lifestyle was sustainable.  I think this readiness and adaptability has to be part of school in the modern world.

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