Call to action: Is your school best preparing kids for the future?
Thursday, January 03, 2019
As we embark on a new calendar year, I ask my fellow school principals whether your school is best preparing kids for the future. This will be my single focus as we start 2019.
At our graduation ceremony last year, I reminded graduates that they entered the PK-12 education system at just about the same time that the first iPhone was introduced to the market. I noted how much our world and our society has changed as a result of personal smartphone devices and drew a parallel to how much our school’s definition of "college and career readiness" has had to evolve over that same time frame.
This example reminds all of us as educators that our world is changing rapidly, and it is getting more and more difficult to predict what our future will look like.
Given this, how are our teachers preparing students for this brave new world? Have their instructional approached changed? Have our school priorities changed? Do they need to change?
Our American PK-12 education system is at a crossroads, perhaps one of the most critical of its 350-year existence. Our profession needs to choose our next path, and the path we choose will be critiqued and debated for many years to come.
To understand the magnitude of this choice, consider a similar situation from the private sector. Just 20 years ago, there was a home video rental entertainment company that was considered the leader of its industry but made a fatal flaw when it opted not to acquire a little-known competitor that used a mail-order system to interact with its customers.
The executives at the big box company either couldn’t or wouldn’t take note of the rise of streaming technology, a concept that was going to revolutionize the industry in just a few years. They believed that as long as they guarded the content, they could control the market and decide when and how consumers would gain access to that content. They were wrong!
Education faces this same dilemma. For centuries, schools were built on the assumption that they existed to store all of the world’s knowledge through books and the expertise of their teachers. It was the school’s job to distribute that knowledge to students, piece by piece, until students could reach a point where they would be ready to create new knowledge and understanding to impart to society.
The rise of technology and information-sharing over the last 20 years has taken away the need for schools to be the keepers of that information. We learn new things each day without the assistance of a teacher. Just last week, I learned how to change my bathroom faucet by watching others do it and post their results on YouTube. My 12-year-old fixed my lawnmower this past summer using the same learning tool.
Decades ago, while in college, I had a part-time job at the library, which was the building that held every piece of information my college was storing, at the time. Today, I carry a handheld electronic device in my pocket that has access to considerably more information than that college library could ever hold today.
In fact, it would probably take thousands of libraries to store that same amount of information. The problem we face now is that we have too much information. Some is good, some is bad. How do we use that information to make sense of our world?
The game has changed. Schools are no longer the gatekeepers of the knowledge. Their primary purpose is now to help students apply and transfer that knowledge and skills in and/or across content areas. Like the small mail-order movie rental company of 20 years ago, many schools have started to figure this out.
They have found ways to actively engage students in deeper and authentic learning using strategies such as competency-based learning, project-based learning, work-based learning, blended learning, inquiry-based learning, personalized learning,performance assessments, portfolio assessments, and student-centered projects.
Sadly, there are still some schools that can’t or won’t make this shift. They may suffer the same fate that big box movie rental company endured because of its inability to keep pace.
Principals play a critical role in shaping the future of education and the direction their schools will take. They must navigate tricky waters as they embark on this journey by recognizing their school’s limitations with regards to resources, policies, politics, and their community’s willingness to break from tradition in order to evolve.
It is an exciting time to be an educator in our nation, but we have many big decisions to make in the coming years. Will we make the right choices for our children?
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