School. Different.

Beginning on March 23rd, I will be leading a discussion with teachers and administrators in my district about ourselves and our professions, but most importantly, about our students and how they learn.  What I want to know is this: are we teaching with their learning in mind?

Here is the description I gave for the workshop:

In this conversation we will examine our goals as educators in the face of a rapidly changing climate in American education.   We’ll look closely at the shifts that need to occur in our profession and the very question of what it means to be well-educated today.  Each group will meet three times: one online session, and two face-to-face sessions.

Essential Questions:
•    Who are the students you want leaving your classroom every day?
•    What do you hope they know how to do with that they’ve learned?
•    What do you hope they care about?

Essential Understandings:

School should be less about preparation for life and more about life itself.
-John Dewey

We must connect our students with information, people and real world contexts that will inspire and engage them throughout their curriculum.

We teach a subject not to produce little living libraries on that subject, but rather to get a student to think mathematically for himself, to consider matters as an historian does, to take part in the process of knowledge-getting.  Knowledge is a process, not a product.

-Jerome Bruner

When our students know how to evaluate media and make sense of its complex messages, they are better able to use it as information for learning.

Our rapidly changing society, both nationally and globally, demands a change in the way we view education and the teaching profession.

This idea was originally inspired and adapted from Jeff Plaman’s LrNing site where he has gathered international educators from around the world to participate in an online class centered around the movements and changes that our students and the profession of teaching is undergoing.  I asked him if I could modify it slightly for my district and he was all for it.

In looking at television lately, I caught this commercial, or should I say, it caught me:

I look at that and I contrast it with Doyle’s recent post regarding his school’s motto: “Learn to Live.”  Are we teaching our students to live?  Are we teaching them the skills to be wise?  Do they have the moral skill to know when to make the exception to the rule?

Oh, I worry some time that we get bogged down in the minutiae of this standard and that standard, and this score and that score, and we forsake the true goals of education: learning to live well.

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4 thoughts on “School. Different.

  1. Great thoughts here. How many times have we said that ‘you need to know it for (place grade level here).’ My wife called me in form the other room when the Kaplan University commerical came on, not because of it’s message, but because of James Avery, formerly of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Juxtaposing this commerical with the idea of “learning to live well” is interesting to do. As Kaplan has really created some very persuasive arguments for you to attend their university, by proprosing that they have everything that everyone in education is dreaming up. Could it possibly be true, the perfect university is out there? I think it will be interesting to see how this video gets used over time…

    Good luck with the conversation.

  2. The focus of schools needs to be what it has been the goal for over 30 years. To produce students who can independently think, think critically, work cooperatively, and problem solve. These ideas didn’t suddenly appear. Sure, the medium has changed in that they will be working with digital tools more than kids did in 1985 or 1995. But the goal hasn’t changed one bit. We still refer to theorists from decades ago…Vygotsky, Dewey, Deutch…

    I would argue the most importnat PD for teachers is to effectively develop critical thinking, cooperative learning, and analysis skills for their students with paper and chalk rather than do it marginally with a SMART Board and a laptop.

    “Critical thinking is useful only in those situations where human beings need to solve problems, make decisions, or decide in a reasonable and reflective way what to believe or what to do. That is, just about everywhere and all the time. Critical thinking is important wherever the quality of human thinking significantly impacts the quality of life (of any sentient creature). For example, success in human life is tied to success in learning. At the same time, every phase in the learning process is tied to critical thinking. Thus, reading, writing, speaking, and listening can all be done critically or uncritically. Critical thinking is crucial to becoming a close reader and a substantive writer. Expressed most generally, critical thinking is “a way of taking up the problems of life.” (William Graham Sumner, Folkways, 1906)

    That was from 100 years ago. I think it is still pertinent today.

    Good luck with the talk.

  3. Patrick, I’ve asked a similar question on my blog in the context of the recession.

    http://forcuriousteachers.blogspot.com/2009/03/heres-wonderful-article-for-social.html

    Some of my best teachers prepared me for “college” — putting periods at the ends of my sentences, solving difficult equations in less than 60 seconds — but not for COLLEGE (the beer pressure, the networking to get a job).

    Academia is too often a fantasy pod, not the real world. We must engage our students in the skills of real life.

  4. First of all, I am a comment slob for not responding much sooner to these. Secondly, Barry is so right on AND he backs it up with one of my favorite things about education: that good teaching has always existed and that the right ideas have always circulated.

    Professional development, as most of us came to know it as we entered the teaching profession, is lackluster, at best. What really gets me is the amount of money that has been spent on bringing this talking head or that talking head in on the first day of school to rally the troops for the coming year, and poof! He or she is thousands of miles away the next day leaving a district fully charged but headed in no certain direction. I wanted this class to be to PD in our district much what James Avery in the Kaplan commercial stated about the university that we need.

    Atlantateacher, thanks for the link to your post, and especially the article. It’s a far too common event in this economy that we see talented, dedicated individuals in situations like the one Walle is in. Here’s something to think about, however: Clay Shirky talks about the changes in media infrastructure that the web and social media bring about, and Walle is a great example of this. Not what happened to him, so to speak, but what he has the ability to make happen now. I look at the amount of writing and thinking talent that has been displaced with the changes in print journalism. What are those people doing now? What they might be doing is adding to the collective intelligence through writing in the very medium we are using here. There is so much creative talent out there that is looking for a way to be recognized. Sure, it’s extremely difficult to monetize at the moment, but give it time and someone will figure out how to do it well.

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