Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A 21st Century Education For All - It's Now A Student Rights Issue


     My educational pedagogy has always been based on the constant attempt to look at every educational experience through a student’s perspective.  It could stem from my early background as journalism/media professional or from my lifetime interest in advocacy.    
     Naturally, I think far too often educators have not looked at things in terms of student impact or perspective when implementing lessons, activities, programs or even pedagogy.
       And now, at a time when the world of work and education are changing so dramatically, I am forced once again to ask what are we doing in our educational system designs that are considering student perspective, student interest, student voice, student choice, student impact and more?
       Essentially, are things as crucial as educational technology, web access, use of social media, real college and career opportunities, mentoring, job shadowing, individual students interests things that can be considered optional or left to the whims of particular school boards, administrators, teachers or other educational entities?
         I will respond with a profound “NO.”  I think that all students should have access to real world tools and resources, web access for their education, choice and voice in their academic program, opportunities to provide constructive feedback to their educational leaders and mentors, etc.  In other words, these are now non-negotiable.  And if they are truly non-negotiable, I think they have become inalienable student rights. 

        That is right.  These are now student rights issues.  If we believe that all students have the right to a free K-12 public education, what does that mean and look like?  Again, school boards, administrators, leaders, teachers and others should not be able to opt out of things that can easily be identified as educational rights.
         No one would argue that all students should have access to things like transportation, seats, co-curricular programs and more.  Then, why is at acceptable for a student at one school to be using 21st century tools while another student down the road (literally in most cases) is using outdated resources from a 20th century model?  It’s not acceptable.  It’s an equity and equal rights issue and therefore non-negotiable.
Naturally, part of the challenge is having all stakeholders agree what is essential, what are inherent educational rights, what is pedagogy vs. what is mandatory, etc.  
But could we not look at the world of work and agree that certain tools, resources and technologies are not optional there?  Do we see companies and/or government agencies option out of technology, social media, the Internet and more?  
One would be hard pressed to find that somewhere.  So, we can look outside schools and see what are the essentials necessary to be a working, functional and literate member of our society.

           If we look at the Internet, technology and social media as literacy foundations – which I think we can easily demonstrate that they are – do they again not become essential and rights for all?
       I was very fortunate to help create a 21st century high school that opened up with, among other things, a Student Bill of Rights.  And in addition to one-to-one student laptops and more, we added foundational elements such as student surveys from teachers quarterly about how to improve their educational experiences. 
It seems that if we truly want to transform education for all students that we will have to approach the challenge from a student educational rights platform.  
I would love to think that all school boards, administrators, teachers, educators, politicians and community leaders would get on the same bus and do what’s right for kids.  But sadly, that probably won’t work.  
We’re going to have to mandate what’s right and be able to guarantee that every student in America has access to a 21st century education.

(images courtesy of Minarets High School and Foter)


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Forced To Drink My Own Professional Kool-Aid

      As a student, and certainly as an educator, I have continually strived to be a lifelong learner.  One of the few advantages of getting older is the realization that one can and should continue to learn. 
      And as an educator who has focused more in the recent years in the inherent value of learning and what influences it, I have done lots of analysis on the concepts of change, reflection and risk-taking.  For the sake of this writing, let’s take the concept of risk and its ultimate impact and influence on one’s actual learning.
      This has become more important lately as we move more towards Ed tech integration, project-based approaches and more real world challenges.  Solving real world problems and applying our learning to project-based challenges will always require a certain level of risk.  We risk our untested ideas, our creativity, challenges from working in various teams and groups, evaluation and assessment and more.  

     The experts are now studying this concept of risk and learning.  Greg Siering, the Director of the Center of Innovative Teaching and Learning at Indiana University/Bloomington, addresses the idea of risk’s influence on both learning and teaching.  
    Siering writes, “Does your course structure encourage intellectual risk-taking and embrace small failures as formative learning opportunities, or does it present failure only as monolithic and punishing? It may seem counter-intuitive to many of us - and many of our students - but learning to take intellectual risks and becoming more comfortable with some levels of failure are vital to our continued growth as learners.”  One can see the complete writing at http://www.indiana.edu/~citl/news/newsStories/dir-feb2012.php as well.

      I have been blessed to work at a project-based, tech-infused and 21st century high school that has challenged students and staff not only to take risks, but to continually aim high, dream big and go all the way professionally.  We call our risk-taking Go Big, Go Pro and Go Now.  One can learn more about Minarets High School at http://www.minarets.us as well.
       It has been fun working to not only talk the talk, but also to walk the walk.  Examples are everywhere.  Since I have challenged students and staff to be public and publish, I had to become an Edu blogger.  Since I’ve challenged students and staff to apply to present at conferences and events, I continue to also do the same.  Since I challenge students and staff to read professionally, I make myself read professionally.
      This has worked well.  We’ve only existed six years, but have already had award-winning and very innovative students, staff and programs.  Our students have done everything including, but not limited to professionally presenting, performing, publishing and more.  

      Our teachers have pushed themselves to present at conferences, publish their work and even take their skills to train others beyond our campus.  Indeed, we’ve had several teachers leave our school to pursue permanent, professional opportunities in various leadership positions throughout various educational communities. 
      Whereas many systems have often discourage people from pursuing such opportunities, we’ve consciously tried to foster it.  We’ve affectionately called our school ‘an incubator.’  We’ve prided ourselves on pushing one another to new professional heights and embracing where that may take any of us.  Essentially, we’ve created an environment where both students and staff are continually taking risks and learning from it at high levels.
     Well, recently, I was put to the test.  I was faced with a professional opportunity to expand my horizons.  I was offered a new leadership position focused on coaching.  This really tested me, as I love my job and my school.  However, I had to reflect on walking the walk.  I had to reflect on what I’ve continually challenged my teachers and students to do – take risks.  In the end, I had to drink my own professional Kool-Aid.
      And I although that leaving a job that I love or starting a new one are not going to be easy, it will represent my professional growth and development as a lifelong learner.   And when framed that way, how can I go wrong?  I will walk the walk, drink my own professional Kool-Aid and push hard to keep learning at a new and more innovative level.

(photos courtesy of Minarets High School)

Friday, July 4, 2014


     One of the more common goals/challenges that emerges regularly in education is the subject of relevance.  Relevance is the idea of connecting learning to things that matter.  And we know what matters to all of us are things that we can see, connect and apply.  It’s what’s real right?
      With than in mind, how do we work to create learning experiences that are ‘real’ for all students?  Well, this is challenging in that we have created entire systems of learning that are really built on artificial foundations vs. real ones.
      As an example, our entire idea of the classroom is predicated on something that is really not real world or real – at least certainly not any longer.  The set-up of the classroom - with students at desks or seats and a teacher at the front dispensing knowledge and instruction - comes from a time when information was in the hands of a few experts, while workers or employees worked in factories or factory-like situations.  Additionally, our schools were created in time when academia was controlled through the classic top down approach. 
     Ironically, students have always learned outside of school.  Whether it was working on the family farm, reading independently, having a part-time job, or any thousands of other activities, students, or people, learned constantly.  The difference is that we haven’t always viewed those real world or hands-on experiences as learning as much as we did the contrived, controlled and rather artificial confines of the classroom.

     So, what do we do to change the artificiality of our traditional classroom, educational and learning environments?  Well, first address the obvious physical limitations of the classrooms.  Desks in rows are obviously not relevant any longer.  Our work and employment worlds are not like that any more.  And our schools, while slow to change, are aware that learning now involves things like technology integration, project-based experiences and teachers as facilitators.  All of these imply that students sitting quietly in rows of desks in a classroom are not relevant any longer.
     But we can’t stop there.  In addition to creating classrooms and learning spaces in terms of the seating, work spaces, etc., how else can learning expand and become more natural, more real and ultimately more relevant?

     Many are experimenting with time.  Why is it thought that learning only happens in these artificial and fabricated confines of a school day schedule, class periods, and official registered courses?  And I’m not suggesting more homework.  However, with the Internet’s potential of 24-hour learning anywhere and anytime, why would we restrict learning to only when we’re present, or only to 2nd period or only during the 180-day school calendar.  Naturally, on-line learning has exploded due to this potential.
      As students begin experiencing and ultimately viewing learning as something that is a personal and lifelong journey, the more learning will happen organically and naturally.  Learning will be something that happens continually and constantly (like it always has been) and be something that the learner owns.

      If students or learners are pursuing an area or areas of passion and self-interest, as well as using all of the available tools in the world to do so, will we not see a different type of student and learner who extends their learning way beyond the classroom, bell schedule and school year? 
      Haven’t educator always wanted lifelong learns who learn independently?  Well, the time, tools and learners have arrived.  Now what?
   For classroom teachers and administrators who are charged with the duty or challenge of students’ learning, this is going to require some creative breaking of the barriers.
      Our questions that are going to continually challenge us are the following:

·       Where can learning happen for a student outside of the classroom?  Field Study, Job Shadowing, Internships, Externships, etc.  These are not new ideas, but are going to now be something that all students need and require throughout their entire learning career?  All students will need real learning opportunities that they can see, taste, touch and experience in order to learn at the highest of levels.  They will need opportunities to apply what they learn both inside and outside of any educational institution or program.

·       Will students’ learning be expected to only occur during their registered courses and schedules?  Or will we see a system that is more customized and personalized where students have learning plans and goals and they coordinate a plan to address those through all of the available resources and tools available?  That might mean that a student’s or learner’s schedule, courses, credits, requirements, transcript, etc. all look very different from one another. Will our secondary and post-secondary institutions be able to handle that?

·       Who are one’s teachers and instructors?  There is nothing wrong with having assigned teachers and facilitators, as well any number of administrative and/or support personnel dedicated to the learning goals and needs of any individual student.  But do we stop there? Should all students have one or more professional mentors outside of the classroom or school confines?  Sometimes this happens naturally, but all students need and deserve that.  How many other adults, mentors or learning guides could a student have?  We that one can’t have too many in terms of having better opportunities and greater success.  Bottom line, the official or assigned teacher or teachers may not be enough.  There are too many needs, too much learning and too much potential to restrict it.

This list could grow naturally right? Things like location, space, time, schedules, personnel, resources and more should not restrict learning or the potential for any student to maximize their learning. 
These will represent huge challenges for us as educators because it will challenge our own experiences and pre-conceived notions of learning, as well as require levels of creativity and innovation that will be unprecedented. 

(images courtesy of foter)