Not a Blog, this page is more a Journal of sorts where I post reflections on best practice in the classroom, the future of teaching, the future of the humanities, the life of the mind, and what it might mean to pursue a life of learning.

Saturday
Mar032012

What Is School For?

The simplest questions uncover the profoundest truths. 

I wrote On Purpose, in part, to help answer the question "what is a school for"? I didn't ask about schooling in general, but about any one given school that your child might go to—what does it do, what makes it good, and how could it become great?

One reason why this is a particularly important question at the start of the 21st Century is because as a nation we don't have a very good grasp on the larger question "what is school for" or better still "what is good schooling"? 

In On Purpose, I argue that schools—through their very design—can bring about more of the highly skilled, hardworking, good, and noble student-citizens we need to lead our country prosperously into the future. But schools also need to be designed and maintained in a very certain way to produce this great result with any sort of regularity.

Approximately 90% of all children in America go to public schools. The manner in which state and local laws are written has a spectacular influence on the kind and quality of the schools our children go to. The manner in which school districts are structured and the means by which district priorities are identified also has a tremendous influence on what school communities believe is really important and worth their greatest time and attention.

This is where Seth Godin comes in.

Seth is the marketing genius of Squidoo and "Tribes" fame who understands better than most people how ideas catch fire today and what is required to transform the landscape of the world we live in.

Seth has written an education reform manifesto called Stop Stealing Dreams that he wants us to share with our friends and distribute for free. It has a subtitle: what is school for? This is a question that needs to catch fire. 

As I've argued for years, a winning mindset is key to real reform. Without it we won't have the vision to see what's possible or the guts to withstand the forces against us. Godin seems to agree. In one section he even tells us how to fix school in twenty-four hours:

Don’t wait for it. Pick yourself. Teach yourself. Motivate your kids. Push them to dream, against all odds. Access to information is not the issue. And you don’t need permission from bureaucrats. The common school is going to take a generation to fix, and we mustn’t let up the pressure until it is fixed.

But in the meantime, go. Learn and lead and teach. If enough of us do this, school will have no choice but to listen, emulate, and rush to catch up.

I like this. It's like the No Excuses mindset after drinking Red Bull. But if you read through Stop Stealing Dreams so much more is revealed. Godin sees that if we don't radically change our schools, our children will stop caring about schooling altogether.

As I have shown in On Purpose, great school communities need to focus greater time and attention on the school cultures they create so that our children might receive the education they truly deserve—an education in which not only skills are mastered but children also learn who they are as people and how they can best contribute to their happiness and to the happiness of others.

That is after all, truly, what school is for.

Wednesday
Feb152012

Global Classrooms

It's a bit 20th-century of me to admit, but I've never been interested in maintaining a Blog. Instead, in this journal I simply post reflections for others to comment upon as they see fit. Although I believe the dynamic interaction between "author" and "reviewer" that is often seen on Blogs is a powerful form of exchange that can lead to very useful insights, I do not think it is for me to pursue as a regular activity. That said, I believe teachers, however, should think about every student they teach maintaining a Blog as the simplest path to regular, dynamic, productive literary exchange among their students.

And so that's what this Journal is about: best practice in the classroom, the future of teaching, the future of the humanities, the life of the mind, and reflections on a life of learning.

Many of you know that I have seen quite a few schools in my day. The last school I visited was number 1,122. No school is a number, despite the dehumanizing practice no school should be referred to by number, and no school can be reduced to mere numbers alone, but it is terribly important to know your numbers - and I know the number of schools I've visited across a career of seeing some of the finest in the world.

To date the very best school I've seen was number 989. The nine hundred and eighty ninth school I ever visited was the The Priory Academy LSST in the United Kingdom. I'll let you explore for yourself the virtual tours and other materials available online to get a flavor for what makes this school so extraordinary, but better than any other school I've seen, The Priory understands the 21st-century concept of the Global Classroom.

The Global Classroom is a place where children learn their place in the world. The Global Classroom is the first place a child learns to be a global citizen. It is a liberating, happy, and fun place to be, but it is also downright challenging—full of very real and difficult work—it is competitive, polyglot, connected to the outside world, disciplined, structured, and well organized, but most of all it is shaped by the very specific learning tasks that need to be achieved each day and humble before the immensity of the knowledge it wants access to. 

This is not a hazy utopian vision, this is the task that teachers face who want their students to be globally competitive in today's world. Children need to be able to work well with each other to produce original work that addresses new and difficult problems. They need to learn to work well in dynamic settings and with their peers in other parts of the world. Done well, this last exercise will not only teach children to address even more technically difficult issues across cultural boundaries, they will learn for themselves how to face potentially complex social problems across all kinds of actual human barriers.

Again, as many of you know, this last item is for me one of the great promises of digital learning. Sure, we need to harness the immense power of computer-adaptive assessment technology to deliver in real time appropriate curricular content in new and creative ways, but more exciting is the less high-tech, more high-human possibility that we use all the social, mobile, and other telecommunications technology available to us to connect our children to each other and, in a very 20th-century fashion, watch them solve problems we haven't yet ourselves identified.

To help inform your imagination, just look at the first few seconds of the Microsoft video below. What do you need to start your own Global Classroom? I'll be sharing with you soon real file footage from classrooms we all can learn from. Globally connected hybrid classrooms are a thing of today. Let's all work to make them a reality for as many children as we know. SCC.