Monday, March 18, 2013

"The Great Conversation"

Have you ever been passionate about something and gotten caught up in a great conversation about the topic?  This happens quite often to me in my position as the principal of NSE.  I often find myself having some great conversations about the things that students are doing in our school.  I could go on and on when caught up in a conversation about the design center.  I could talk for days about the great experiences that students have when they are on the NSE Today Show.  I could share story after story about teachers who are creating environments that are inspiring students to want to come to school, learn, and then go home and do it some more.

Vollmer states that, "Properly executed, The Great Conversation informs, inspires, and invigorates all who choose to participate."  He goes on to say that, "The best interest of our children, our communities, and our country demand that we move as fast as we can to create schools that maximize student success."

Are you comfortable with the results that our schools are producing?  If not, then we must change what we are doing and how we do it.

I enjoy playing tennis.  When I was competitive, I knew that if I wanted to get better I had to change or improve what I was doing.  As I got older, the strategies and techniques changed.  Education is no different.  We must change what we are doing in order to get better.  If we practice the same old way, we will perform the same old way.  Think about it.  Arthur Ashe was a great tennis player in his time.  However, with new equipment and better training expertise, players today (Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer) are playing tennis in a much different way.  What if they practiced and played the way Arthur Ashe played?  Would they be performing at the levels they are today?  Probably not.

I also remember that it was hard work, frustrating, and scary trying to change my swing or practice a new shot.  I could do it during practice, but when it came to match time I resorted back to my old ways.  Next thing you know, I am getting the same results.  Perfecting a new technique took commitment and persistence in order to make it effective in a match.  In the same way, we must commit to our new way of engaging students, in school and it does not include memorizing and recalling information.  It requires creating, collaborating, and communicating through meaningful and purposeful projects, presentations, and publications.  Being able to do these things will cause our boys and girls to be successful in the real world.

Dr. "H"

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Schools Can't Do it Alone - Chapters 11-15

"Archaic mental models are holding us back when we can least afford delay.  But, in my experience, the problems presented by these subconscious notions are exponentially exacerbated by the presence of a debilitating mental disease that I call 'nostesia': fifth percent nostalgia (homesickness), fifty percent amnesia (loss of memory)."  I think we all feel like we had a decent enough education that prepared us for where we are today.  However, "what if" we had a better education?  One that taught us to create, design, problem solve, collaborate, and communicate in different ways.  I had a fellow principal tell me not too long ago that his daughter was a straight "A" student all the way through college.  He stated that his daughter has a successful career.  Interestingly enough, he then stated that he wondered how much more successful his daughter would be if she had been exposed to an education that focused on meaningful and engaging work based on her interests and needs.

Vollmer goes on to say that, "...adults have claimed that the schools of their youth were superior in every way and that 'these kids today' are academically deficient."  He later says that, "They forget that most of what they know they learned after they got out of school."  Isn't that the truth?  I am not sure if I have learned more since I got out of school, but I do know that what I was exposed to in school now has meaning to my career and hobbies.  If we are going to do school differently, we are going to have to include the entire community.

"You cannot touch a school without touching the culture of the surrounding town (p. 98)."

"To unfold the full potential of every child, we must do more than change our schools.  We must change America one community at a time."

These two statements above begin to lead us to the Vollmer's method for changing America's schools.  When it comes to public education, "...everyone is a stakeholder.  They pay taxes."  Therefore, we must educate those in our community about our schools.  

My next post will focus on "The Great Conversation."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Schools Cannot Do it Alone - Week 2.5?

I have to confess.  I did not carefully read through all of chapters 9 and 10 last week.  However, as I read them this week I discovered some comments that Vollmer made that really hit home.  For example, Vollmer states that, "Every educator knows that Americans invest in the things that they value.  They hear plenty of talk in the public arena about how important it is that we teach all children to high levels, and how critical teachers are to the education process.  A reasonable person could conclude that their budgets and salaries would reflect the public's professed regard for teaching and learning." Wow, what a loaded topic!  I happen to know from experience, however, that no educator gets into the profession for the fame and/or fortune.  When compared to the corporate, political, or entertainment worlds, educators make significantly less money for the responsibilities and expectations that they face from their customers.

Vollmer keeps talking about the need for change.  He also states that, "The vast majority of teachers, administrators, board members, and support staff are acutely aware that not all children are well served, and most are willing to undertake the substantial changes required to increase student success."  Notice that he did not say student "achievement," which eludes to academic ability, but success.  Each school district and school community has to decide what "success" looks like for their children.  Educators at NSE want to know what the parents and guardians of our students think success looks like.

This leads us to chapter 10 where Vollmer states, "What do our graduates need to know and be able to do when they graduate?"  I think about this every day.  Are we here to prepare our students to take a standardized test (PASS), or are we here to prepare them to be successful entrepreneurs, quality service providers, researchers, writers, designers, civic leaders, etc...  Unfortunately, the current system is designed to measure and instruct kids to be good test takers.  While standardized test scores are important, they are not the only measure as to whether a child is going to be successful when they graduate from school.

Vollmer states that, "The key to increasing motivation lies in changing the nature of the work that students were asked to do.  To paraphrase the great educational leader Phil Schlechty, if teachers and administrators were ever to inspire student fascination, or, at the very least sustained interest, they had to develop lessons and assignments that linked the things students cared about to the things they needed to learn."  I could not agree more.  I strongly believe that we need to understand and know the standards in which our students are measured.  However, these standards and skills can be taught much more effectively through paying attention to student interest and needs, rather than a textbook created by a for-profit publisher based on the state adopted standards.

I could go on and on about these two chapters, but I will continue to read on and post later on chapters 11-15.

Dr. "H"

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Schools Cannot Do It Alone - week 2

"American society is being completely transformed, this time at the speed of light.  The industrial age is being replaced by a post-industrial 'knowledge-age' (p. 50)."

"...employees must learn, and apply what they have learned, faster than the competition.  To that end, CEO's place their employees in the center of rewarding, supportive environments that nourish the growth of creative intelligence (p. 51)." 

Animal habitats (Design Center)
These two quotes stood out to me as I began to read chapters 6 - 10.  As educators, we have to understand that society is changing rapidly.  We must think ahead of the game.  The students that we are teaching today are going to be performing jobs that do not even exist.  We must prepare them to think, create, and problem solve.  They need to be able to perform task without someone doing it for them.  They need to learn to struggle with the work so that they can gain deeper knowledge and skills.  The work however has be meaningful and rewarding.  

Materials and space important
It does not matter what level of a worker a person becomes knowledge and skill are becoming more and more important.  What used to be considered manual labor is now much more technical and knowledge based.  Think about the professionals who work on your car or the heating and air systems in your homes.  These people must obtain a technical skill that many of us don't have.  This is one of the reasons in my opinion that STEM education is so important.  A deeper understanding of science, technology, engineering, and math concepts will take a child a long way these days.
    
Collaboration across grades
Vollmer goes on to talk about how we keep time constant in education.  Everyone starts at the same time and is expected to end at the same time.  I have to agree with him that this is not always possible based on the fact that I struggled in school early on.  It took me until I decided to go to college that I realized I had the ability to master this thing called "schooling."  I struggled with reading and was held back in the second grade to catch up.  I attended special reading classes at school and outside of school.  It took a lot of motivating and effort to get me to succeed in elementary through high school.  It wasn't until the learning became meaningful to me that I began to excel.  Once I found my passion which is educating others, it was smooth sailing.  

Through his research, Vollmer states that, "Intelligence can grow, and more to the point, schools can actively accelerate the growth process by providing learning environments and programs that stimulate the development of neural connections (p. 64)."  This is the purpose behind the design center, the NSE TV broadcast studio, project based learning, designing work around the needs and interest of the students, knowing our students and community, Culinary One on One, Sports Blitz, STEMS, QuEST, STAR, and much more.  

I could go on and on.  I would love to read what others are thinking about this book.  

Dr. "H"