As I read through Transforming Schools by Allison, Zmuda, Robert Kuklis and Everett Kline, my thoughts about school transformation are held by the idea that
“A competent system serves the end of enhanced achievement for all students.”
The book goes on to describe how this can be achieved through
systems thinking, collegiality, information-driven reality and collective autonomy and collective accountability.
As I work through the different parts of the book, stopping to reflect on my own thinking about particular things and how the school where I work fits into the picture, I wonder if there are any other people like me out there. I mean, really. Are there people who, for their late night reading, sit back and work through such things, pondering how this or that effects the overall workings of the school where they work.
As a teacher, I would read through different texts or go through different information in order to prepare myself for what I was doing. With the introduction of the internet, I was able to find more and more information that I could go through that was available at my fingertips. Today, I could be drowning in information if I wanted as things progress faster than I can gather and synthesize the information. As an administrator, my focus has shifted. Although I do some reading for my classes, I do more in the realm of school improvement, student improvement, teacher supervision, student development, data synthesis and other such things. Now, as off beat as the above may seem, much of what I read is in fact very interesting. Gone are the days of stuffy textbooks. Instead, the writing is engaging and thought provoking. But, still I wonder, how many people actually do this type of reading for non-credit?
Reading the weather
One of the greatest pleasures that I enjoy with my family is camping. We usually spend a few weeks each summer at a park, enjoying the sun, sand and water. The more time we spend outside, the better able we are to read the signs of weather that come along, like the calm before the storm. Whether it’s bugs seeming to be looking for hiding or the lack of birds and sounds that often preview a storm, one becomes more aware of how the weather affects the world around us and we become more able to read some of the signs.
I find that this is also the case in education. If one takes the time to watch the climate, there may be signs of things that are to come. Like the weather, there are some signs that make one realize that we need to be ready for change is coming. As we become more focused on making sure all students are succeeding in school, we are also becoming aware that the huge amount of testing that has been going on isn’t necessarily creating the results that it was suppose to. Add into the mix the fact that the data we have collected shows us areas of weakness in the broadest sense but not how this can help us to improve and you have some of the signs that things may be ready for change. Finally, as this video demonstrates, we are indeed being asked to engage students who are different in many ways.
With all this taking place, I see that there are changes that might be happening in the future. The subtitle of the book states: creating a culture of continuous improvement. If we are to take this at face value, then would we not be looking at learning that is indeed new and different? Can we have “continuous improvemnt?”
With all these “signs” around us, it is important, I believe, to be aware of them and begin to make the necessary adjustments so that we are not caught in a storm of change.
Being truly student centered
Many times, as an educator, I’ve heard the phrase “student centered” and wondered if the person or company using the phrase truly understood what they were saying. For many people, this small phrase has lost any type of meaning since it has been tossed around and used in all types of situations that, when the rubber met the pavement, were not truly centered on the student. As I work my way through Transforming Schools, I realize that we have entered a new state of learning in which there is no actual stop to the learning that we must do. We must be prepared and, in turn, prepare our students, to be continuous learners in a much deeper sense than the idea of “lifelong learning”. They must be participatory members of the learning in the constructivist sense of learning. The learning needs to be learner centered but also learner driven and, to some degree, learner specific. Students need to equip themselves with the tools of learning as we enter a time of continual learning and growth. Notice that it is the students that will do the equipping. Teachers are the facilitators of the learning, helping the students along the path and giving them direction and assistance. We’ve eclipsed the point when the teacher had all the knowledge to know. Instead, we’ve entered a time when the information available continues to grow and to know it all is impossible. Instead, we must teach students to be better learners, developing and honing their skills of learning which are different than those skills of needed to pass the test. In this case, the test is ongoing and ever-changing. School is where the basic learning blocks will be established for a lifetime. As we become more aware that it is the “how” of learning and not the “what”, we will become better able to create student-centered learning that will truly make a difference to each and every student.
Back to the beginning
Yes, I do spend my evening reading such books. I find that they challenge me to think in new and different ways and to question my own understanding. That’s what I want for all the students in my school – to be able to learn and challenge themselves to become better no matter what they do and not to see learning as just something you do at school or at work but that, indeed, it needs to be life long.