The school district I work for has two campuses-a North and a South Campus. North was the original high school in the district and dates back to 1928. If you do the math, it is 80 years old. A lot of kids have gone through that building, and so have many teachers and administrators. When you drive down Main Street, you see the school. Anyone will recognize it as a school, even though much has changed about the world we live in. It’s been there a long time.
And it’s not going anywhere.
When I retire in 13 years, it will still be there. Forty years from now, there will be a good chance that it still will be there, still opening its doors to kids. The physical spaces may change slightly, the rooms will be equipped perhaps differently, and hopefully what takes place in those rooms will change in some ways as well.
But I’m hoping that some things stay the same. There are still a lot of good things that happen in schools.
The blogosphere is filled with posts about the need for school change and reform. I’ve done them too, so I’m guilty. And there is no doubt that schools have to improve-we all know that. We all know that there are bad schools; we know that there are bad teachers, bad administrators, and even bad students. Sometimes there is bad curriculum and bad instruction, with not much learning taking place. You get the picture.
There is a continual undercurrent in the blogosphere that characterizes schools as places that are out of touch, as places that no longer connect, and that no longer serve a purpose. That’s my general perception and not reflective of any single individual or post, just a feeling I get after several years of reading.
I struggle with that characterization. I understand the blogosphere is a sounding board-throw an idea out there, see what sticks, and let people mash it up in “conversation.” But conversation is easy-and in this era of type and submit content creation-it’s also convenient. In some cases, some of the conversation about schools gets heated, and can be downright caustic. Sometimes the discussion steps beyond the bounds of professional conversation-and unfortunately, seems to become personal. Sometimes I think all of this “conversation” disrespects the enormous amount of good work that teachers and schools do.
Sometimes I think the conversation misses the target. Why? The conversation forgets:
1. That schools, like the one on Main Street in Downers Grove, and the schools that are in your community, can indeed be successful. There are numerous examples. It takes a shared collective vision, leadership, and educational professionals that are relentless in their pursuit of excellence. The kids will respond. You don’t necessarily have to do it online, you don’t have to do it in a multiplayer blog outside of a school, and you don’t need some blogospheric magic bullet that creates some new type of school. That big building that looks like a school, is a school, can be a successful institution where much important learning takes place.
2. That school change, school reform, whatever you want to call it, can emerge from within schools themselves. Talk about school reform in the blogosphere all you want, legislate it all you want, but in my opinion, change will result by people in the system rolling up their sleeves and getting it done, and basing that reform on sound educational theory, meaningful information about students and student progress, dedicated professional educators, and again, all supported by that shared, collective vision. Leave the profession if you want, seek to educate kids in different ways if you want, but I’m sticking around, because there are 5500 kids in my school district that need an education.
3. That we know how to educate kids. Face it, is it really that difficult? Is a designing a quality lesson really that hard? Don’t we know what’s required already? Need a reminder? See Tom Hoffman’s outline of his presentation for Educon or this report about quality teaching, via Artichoke. We just don’t do it all the time, see #1 above.
4. That students still need to be placed in rigorous, challenging learning environments where they learn things like writing, math, civics, and science. And you know what-perhaps it’s also appropriate for kids to have an opportunity to sing, or create a painting, or maybe learn how to change a muffler, prepare a meal, and kick around a soccer ball. Perhaps that also needs to take place with adult guidance. And yes, on an individual basis, much of that can be done out of school. But how do you see that happening for the 5500 kids that I serve? I’d like you to answer that. There is more to life, more to education, than blogs and wikis…
5. That not all kids are tech-savvy, self-directed, highly-motivated independent learners that create dynamic and collaborative authentic content in multiple formats for distribution through social networks (full disclosure: every buzzword was used in the last sentence). But do you need someone to teach you how to text message? I’ve got 5500 teachers for that. They’ve got the interest, the capability, but they don’t know everything. Utilize it, direct it, leverage it, but don’t assume that all students know everything about technology, and how it can be used to drive their learning.
The reality is that the conversation is important. It’s challenging, it’s fun, and it’s frustrating, all at the same time. But sometimes the conversation forgets the reality of what needs to be accomplished, and what mainstream educators, educators who don’t blog, but grade papers, call parents, coach freshman basketball, tutor kids during their lunch period, and serve on two committees, face every day.