In my EDL 680 course, which is a Seminar for Personalized Learning and Leading Through Technology, we are reading Yong Zhao's "Catching Up or Leading the Way." While only on chapter four, I am seeing a new perspective on how the educational system in the US has evolved over the years.
Before diving in too deep, I do want to share my personal excitement that the author is now a professor at Michigan State (though I did not attend MSU, being a Michigander it is nice to read his work) and has kids in Okemos Public Schools, a great public school system in Ingham County.
As a history major, it is true that history repeats itself. What is interesting to read in Zhao's book is the history of educational reform in the US and some other reforms in general. Much of what has transpired over the years has happened due to fear and politics, sometimes both together and sometime exclusive of each other. It was interesting to read how then US Senator John F. Kennedy used the Soviet Sputnik launch to win reelection to the Senate and later the Presidency, all because then President Eisenhower was focusing US resources on other initiatives while the Soviets were increasing military might. In a later report, that was found to not be the case. The same has been happening with the educational system: the US is falling behind the Soviets, Japanese, Germans, Chinese and Indians. That was part of the reason for No Child Left Behind, where a large focus was placed on testing, more specifically testing in math and science.
An educator now myself, in a arts and sciences charter school, the section I found most telling (so far in his book at least), Zhao talks about a talent show in Okemos that his daughter participated in. As he put it, "The lack of standards and assessment may provoke some critics of American education to argue that these kinds of practices lead to a lack of rigor in education, and it may be precisely that attitude that has caused American student's low performance on international tests. But I argue that activities such as the talent show at Central Elementary School represent one of the greatest strengths of American education for a number of reasons." His reasons include the talent show being inclusive, that the talent show encourages initiative and responsibility, the talent show sends a message to the community on the importance of valuing different talents and that everyone is talented in their own way, and that the talent show helps everyone to be proud of their strengths as opposed to their weaknesses.
I think Zhao is spot on with this assessment. One of the things we are focusing on at the Academy of Arts and Sciences is personalized education for each of our scholars. The other is ensuring they are prepared for their future success. It is important to note, as this was a long discussion with our vision statement (all 70+ of our employees participated in the discussion of our new vision statement), that we are not just preparing our scholars for college. Not everyone will go to college, so it is important to prepare them for whatever they choose is next in their life after high school and to be able to be successful.
The strength, then, is not solely on assessment and grades earned in coursework, but honing and refining talent which comes in many shapes and forms. We know the business world is looking for innovation; perhaps we all need to host more talent shows.
In my EDL 680 course, which is a Seminar for Personalized Learning and Leading Through Technology, we have spent time reading John Wagner's "The Global Achievement Gap." This is a terrific read, filled with great ideas for teachers and administrators alike to improve learning outcomes in and outside the classroom. I have taken notes from the book at hope to apply them at AAS.
One of the areas is the seven essential survival skills. In his book, Wagner lists those skills as 1) Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, 2) Networks and Leading by Influence, 3) Agility and Adaptability, 4) Initiative and Entrepreneurialism, 5) Effective Oral and Written Communication, 6) Accessing and Analyzing Information, and 7) Curiosity and Imagination.
For the most part, I agree that these are the top seven essential skills. I may reorder them, starting with effective oral and written communication. I have seen too often communication hinder progress of individuals and organizations. To be able to share an idea, a critique, is one of the most important skills I look for in a person. I also look for curiosity and imagination. I tell my staff all the time to dream big, to bring ideas to the table, to find ways to make improvements to our organization. We may need to scale these ideas down when it comes time to implement, but why start small?
These skills can be used in and out of the classroom. They can be part of the performance planning process at AAS, along with our work on our LCAPs. As we do quarterly check-ins on both documents, the ability to problem solve is important to ensure our plans are able to be effectively implemented. We will also need to be able to access and understand the data we have gathered, and if we are not collecting the correct data, make adjustments in our processes and systems.
Personally, these are important skills which will ensure the success of AAS as an organization and the success of each individual employee. They will allow us to evolve and support the program, our scholars, and the entire educational experience. As we lead in the charter community, our systems may become models for like-minded organizations to replicate. To be seen as the model program would be a testament to our ability to create a world-caliber experience for the scholars we serve.
J.J. Lewis - a blog sharing the journey throughout SDSU's MA.EL. program.