During the fall exploration of schools, which included nearly twenty examinations of school programs all across the region and the United States, we focused ourselves by asking the question: What is most important for students to learn, and how should they best learn it?
Specifically, we were interested in how schools were using spaces and time, how they were personalizing learning for students, and how they were blurring the lines between traditional subjects.
Much of what we saw was affirming due to things we are currently doing. But, many of the schools are going even further than we are to ensure that their students are engaged and prepared to meet the current and future challenges that await them. They are ensuring that students have the necessary skills that all students need to master. Skills such being a good reader, being proficient with numbers, knowing how to speak and write effectively, and having a deep understanding of important concepts were the cornerstone of the school programs we saw. What made these schools unique was how they were going about it.
How school worked in the places we visited looked and felt different. We saw schools with no bells and extended periods of learning so that teachers were able to dive deeply into topics. The classes that students were enrolled in were often combinations of traditional courses. There were biology-literature classes, art-English-history classes, art-physics classes, and many other combinations. We also saw student-designed courses. The hallways and classrooms were full of student projects and installations. Learning was occurring everywhere.
However, coming away with skills will only take our kids so far as they leave school and enter the workforce. They will need to have certain dispositions that will enable them to be successful in any career. The best schools have realized this and have done something about it. They have identified dispositions such as resilience, flexibility, perseverance, curiosity, empathy for others, an ability to work with others, and respect. The end goal of these schools (and any school, by the way) is preparing tomorrow’s citizens. In order to do that, students need to be engaged, independent, informed, active, and motivated. These dispositions can be taught through strategies and the actions and language of the teachers. Check out this youtube video for more on this:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rvhb9aoyeZs&t=1s
There also was a focus on learning and not grades. These schools recognize that if grades are the emphasis, it becomes all about the grade and not the learning. Traditionally, learning is often a hopeful byproduct at best. We have been conditioned to be overly focused on grades.
What was most impressive in our school visits was the dedication to experiences. Application of skills was an important part of all the schools we visited. This was often true through rich projects that were authentic. We saw these projects in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.
For the high schools, there also was an emphasis on job shadow and internship experiences. Many of the schools had mandatory 30-40 hour annual job shadows that were in place for several reasons. First and foremost, these experiences allow students to discover what they like and what they don’t. This will assist them as they plan their next steps as they leave high school. In addition, by getting out in the workplace, students have an opportunity to practice important skills such as speaking, listening, writing, and workplace etiquette.
I am very excited to share ideas with you about how we can work together to improve how students gain important skills, dispositions, and experiences in our educational program.
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