This past April, I had the opportunity to deliver my Courageous Journey final presentation and earn the CJ Endorsement (http://gomasa.org/courageous-journey). As I reflected on my journey over the previous three years, I was struck by the fact that my systemic change work was centered on my new “Why” for education. The “Journey” and reflection have been at the center of my push to change the way we work with today’s students so we can meet the needs of ALL of them.
Most educational institution’s strategic plans, mission/vision statements, or annual education reports make reference to ALL students. But ALL means ALL and that’s a really hard thing to get our heads around when we stop to think that there are roughly 1.6 million kids in Michigan schools. Add to that, the fact that we aren’t educating these kids for our past, but their future and educators are faced with an exciting challenge. We know what outcomes our current system creates and without systemic changes I believe that those outcomes will decrease the number of students that will be ready to contribute in the ever-changing workplace and society of the future. Regardless of which side of the “broken education” argument you’re on, I think we can all agree that more of those same results don’t equal success for ALL students.
Our schools and classrooms continue to look like they have for a long time. While there is a push for any time, any place, any pace learning we still have a long way to go, but the bridge is being built. For me, the bridge has to be built with change around personalization, if we truly want to meet the needs of ALL students. To personalize learning for our students we need to embrace available technologies and foster collaborative environments working and learning environments for our teachers, students and community. Educators will need to identify those practices that are working in our current system and continue to use those while they balance implementing new tools, strategies, programs and learning environments.
I have been and will continue to be a strong advocate for the effective and well thought out use of technology in our classrooms and learning environments. Personalization without the use of technology is a tough task and one that requires teachers to work harder than they would if they leveraged the tools that are available to them in today’s educational environment. We continue to add to our teacher and student toolkits as we build the bridge to our educational future. At the same time, I am also a strong advocate that technology, alone, is not the answer to our educational needs. Our students need to connect with adults, to develop strong mentoring relationships that allow those adults to model the behaviors and life skills that will lead to success, not only in the workplace, but is all aspects of life. Our teachers are phenomenal, but with the large amount of diversity they see in their classrooms, our schools need support in finding mentors to connect will ALL of our students. As I continue to talk with businesses across our community I am inspired by their willingness to connect with educators and our students. The conversation is very different when we engage them in terms of their expertise and the possibility of connecting with our students in an authentic way, versus with our hand out for money or financial support.
In this past year, we have had the chance to work with some amazing educators, businesses and organizations to create some very exciting programs that are allowing our teachers and students to learn in new and engaging environments. I believe that these partnerships will be the foundation for our educational future. We partnered with the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway (http://www.outdoordiscovery.org/home) to create our nature-based preschool program, Little Hawks Discovery Preschool (http://little-hawks-discovery-preschool.hamiltonschools.us/), and engage our youngest learners in a new and exciting way. We have a teacher completing his MBA who is working with the West Coast Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to create the YEAR (Youth.Entreprenuereal.Advancement.Resource) Program that will allow students to develop their entrepreneurial passion and skills. Our district has also partnered with the Model Communities Education Initiative lead by Herman Miller, Haworth, the West Coast Chamber, Lakeshore Advantage, neighboring public schools, a private school, a charter school and our ISD to create the “Connections”(http://www.oaisd.org/oaisd/departments/careertechnicaleducaton/collegecareerreadiness/connections/) program. This program will create educational opportunities for teachers and students that will embed work relevant experiences, employer based learning, career exploration and employability skills into the school curriculum beginning in sixth grade and continuing through graduation. We are also in year two of the iChallengeU program (http://www.oaisd.org/oaisd/departments/careertechnicaleducaton/collegecareerreadiness/ichallengeuprogram/) that connects students, teachers and businesses/organizations for a two week Project Based Learning collaboration around an issue currently facing the partner business or organization.
There is an old saying: “It takes a village to raise a child,” and I believe that if we truly want to prepare ALL kids for success, then it will: “Take a community to educate ALL children”. If we continue to work collectively, our future is bright. It can be a future that will bring with it the confidence to say every child leaves our system equipped with a love of learning, real life educational experiences and the ability to solve any problem they encounter as they take the next step in their courageous journey toward success in life.