November 30, 2005

Starting from Scratch

Being part of building a new school district is pretty exciting. Our director has made it very clear that we are building something from scratch and that new ideas are welcomed and expected.

With Christmas coming up, my kids have submitted their lists and we have the duty to examine these lists and determine which requests are feasible and which may have to wait. So in the spirit of Christmas and a new division, here’s my wish list for our new division in no particular order.

  • 1-1 computing. Be it a laptop, handheld or whatever until students stop having to make trips to the lab to access technology, we remain in the old world. Many of our schools have 5 computers in the room, this still isn’t enough. We wouldn’t expect kids to share pencils why computers? What about cost? Ever heard of the $100 laptop?
  • Connected students and teachers. Not only connected with technology but a sense of connection among each other. Technology enables us to connect with others in our classroom, school, district and the world. We know this but does it happen? Every teacher, administrator and student should have a learning space online. A weblog, a wiki, a podcast, whatever. Parts of everyone’s learning needs to be public. If you want to get into the whole privacy issue, head over here. My point is students need an audience for their work, we’re obligated to give them that much.
  • No more teachers. What? Teachers need to be replaced by directors or faciliators. In short this means transforming classrooms from silos of knowledge distribution to horizontal collaboration and exploration.
  • Blended learning environments. Our district has some major geographical challenges and declining enrollment. The possibility of school closures is real. We need to provide students of all ages the opportunity to learn independently at home. This may not be the solution for everyone but combined with some face to face schooling, this may offer those living in rural areas and even in the urban centres an option never before available.
  • Increased time for teacher reflection and collaboration. The advent of Professional Learning Communities has sparked some great conversations about learning. The potential is huge. However, unless teachers are given ample time to reflect and examine new ideas, this may only appear as an add on. I’m not sure exactly what it looks like, but teachers need time every day to step away from the students and develop learning strategies.
  • Balance Assessment and Creativity and Innovation. Assessment is an important issue for teachers and students. Using assessment correctly has proven to be a powerful factor in improving achievement. My concern is that at times, assessment attracts the lowest common denominator and we return to rote learning models in order to pump out data. Creativity is not always possible or necessary to measure. Innovation requires time to explore and fail. Establishing environments where these three concepts are at work is critical in the flat world.
  • Seamless Learning. If we truly believe in the idea of life long learning, we need to demonstrate that learning that happens outside the school day is valuable. Offering credit for activities such as music lessons, participation on sports teams and self directed learning should be recognized by our schools.
  • Relevant, Engaging and Ownership. This is my new mantra. Not mine but remixed from others. These three criteria should be at the heart of every classroom.

Okay, that’s the start of my list. I realize that some of these wishes will require wholesale changes from various agencies but I think it’s time to start thinking big. Our director told me today she wants to create a vision and figure out how we might get there. This is my vision.
This entry linked to Wikispaces page (Ideal School)