What Can I Do About School Redesign?
If you have a high school-aged student in your life, I encourage you to ask them about their current experience. Do they enjoy school? How they spend their day? What are the best parts of their day? What challenges they have to negotiate? The majority of students describe an experience that is not overly positive. Even if they are a “successful” student, they still may spend a good portion of the day bored or disengaged. This shows opportunity for innovation.
A Unique Privilege
Both of my children are students in my school. Recently, one of their grandparents asked my son how school was going. My son said it was going great and that he loved school. His grandma was shocked and dumbfounded by that statement. Frankly, she didn’t know how to respond. I am afraid she was expecting him to say it was “okay,” “alright,” “not good,” or some other emotion. In some ways, surviving a bad school experience has become a badge of honor for many folks, so they expect everyone else to have the same experience.
Part of this roots from the idea that having a bad experience in school is somehow preparation for the misery of work life that is to come. According to a recent study, only 20% of Americans are truly passionate about their job. This statistic is both sad and disturbing. Schools have some responsibility in that statistic. What if our schools became a place of innovation that truly prepares students to thrive beyond high school, not just survive? What if we helped students explore who they are as an individual to help them find a fulfilling life and career path to pursue?
Goals for School Staff:
– Unleash hope on the world.
Our world is in desperate need of hope. This is particularly true for modern teenagers. Hope is sometimes all we cling to. It can be the anchor that gets us through some challenges, expecting that someday things will get better. If we instill hope in each of our students, they are a powerful force for good when they graduate and leave our schools.
– Be gentle, but relentless.
On the surface, these ideas seem to contradict each other. However, when used together they can be powerful. As we remain persistent in our kindness and compassion, we can slowly change the trajectory of a student. We don’t need to control them or make them do anything. But we can gently encourage them to make the right decisions. We must do this over and over again.
– Start a joyful rebellion.
Imagine a world where educators are the happiest folks in the room. We should be inspired by the impact we get to have on the next generation. Imagine the teacher’s work room/lounge. It should be a place that brings energy, all inhabitants with a positive perspective.
– Fish with a pole, not a net.
When you fish with a net, you catch many things that you never intended to catch. Use this idea to think about the rules, policies, and systems we create in schools. We often make a rule or a decision to address the behavior of one person or a small group which ends up affecting the masses. Instead of mass communication, what if we became adept at communicating with individuals about what they need to do to improve or to meet our expectations.
A great school can be an oasis.
If you have ever driven across the desert, you will see patches of green appear where there is water and life. I host a lot of visitors to my school. The first observation they usually make right away is how happy students are to be at school. My hope is they take that experience with them as they leave and encourage others to visit our oasis as well.
A couple of years ago, I took my family to visit the Grand Canyon over spring break. While this natural wonder is amazing for many reasons, the idea that I kept coming back to is that this massive hole in the earth was shaped by water. The rock landscape was transformed by water that took the same path over and over again until it recreated the landscape. That is really the only way that you can transform a rock. As we seek to redesign schools for students, we too must often take the same path again and again until we have created a new path in the landscape.
Every school, program, system, or department in America has an opportunity for innovation.
While not every new educational idea will work, we can take lessons from the experience to improve. Our school has come up with some ridiculous ideas and some of them were absolute flops. But some of them have worked and students are better off for it. We have to be okay with the idea that not everything is going to work. Otherwise, we will get stuck as a car in the driveway that never ventures out on the trip. We can’t be afraid to fail, but we must fail forward.
Some of the greatest learning takes place from our mistakes and failures.
Science fiction writer William Gibson is quoted as saying, “The future is here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” I would term it just a bit differently, “The future is here; it’s just in the margins.” There is positive change happening in schools and systems throughout the country. Much of the great innovation and change that is happening is with underserved students. This includes highly gifted students, students with disabilities, dropout prevention programs, and online/hybrid schools.
In many ways, this is because there are not traditionally good solutions for these students. So, we need to come up with new solutions. There are places in which you are not currently successful that are ripe for innovation and creative thinking in your school or district. What freedoms, challenges, and opportunities are available in your system? Most great ideas come from crisis or failure.
In the future, experts won’t matter – only learners.
Human knowledge is increasing at the fastest rate ever. It has been proposed that until 1900, human knowledge doubled every 100 years. By 1950, the estimate was that human knowledge doubled every 25 years. In 2013, human knowledge was doubling every 13 months and some folks now estimate that it doubles every 12 hours. We need to teach students and adults how to learn, not just content.
As you embark in your school innovation, remember that you don’t have to have it all figured out. You just must be open to the possibilities.
The hardest step is often the first one.
If you would like to continue the discussion or talk about ways that you could learn from our experience, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested to learn more about the Accelerate Education online learning experience, request a demo.
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