Schools today need heroes. Not superheroes who save the day, but leaders who are not afraid to make changes to improve student learning rather than perform well on "the test."
"Those who advocate incremental change are not the heroes of history." unknown tweet
I saw this a few weeks ago on twitter and it summarizes how I feel about where schools need to go. We need to be bold and not afraid to try new things.
There is too much emphasis on teaching to the test to make AYP under NCLB. I understand that federal funds and administrative jobs are tied to the scores and that they get published in the newspaper as "failing" or "passing" schools based on complicated formulas that the general public does not understand.
Still I long for administrators to de-emphasize the tests and implement student-centered, project-based instruction. Instead of trying to synchronize every content class with common assessments, encourage teachers to experiment with personalized instruction that meets students where they are and pushes them as far as possible.
The ideal classroom would be 1:1 laptops with no textbooks. The internet and world would be the "text" along with conversations with students and adults from around the world. Teachers would not use textbooks as easy lesson plans, but would continually be exploring the web themselves finding the latest resources to engage their students. Students and teachers would learn together and document their learning on blogs, wikis, and digital portfolios. The portfolio would continue with the student throughout their school career showing their learning progress. Students would use skype and other social media to collaborate with schools around the world in real life projects that integrate multiple content areas. "Homework" would be students continuing these conversations on the internet outside of school and researching more about them. "Classwork" would be students sharing and teaching each other what they discovered at home.
There are literally hundreds of "tools" on the web that are free and open-sourced. School budgets would shift from paper,textbooks, and canned software to wi-fi, netbooks, and teacher training for the student-based learning. Schools would get creative (and save money) by allowing students to use their own laptops, cell phones, and ipods to access the web.
These kind of changes can not be implemented by individual teachers in isolation, but require leadership from the top that is willing to take risks and encouraging risk-taking by its teachers and students. Teacher training is imperative to successful implementation.
Where should administrators begin? Start with reading blogs of some administrative leaders such as Chris Lehman and Scott Mcleod. Learn about the best practices from bloggers like David Warlick, Will Richardson, Shelly Blake-Plock, and Wesley Fryer. Engage in the comments section of these blogs and join twitter. If you feel that you are "not good at technology," ask these people to help and share with you. They will meet you at your level and help you join the learning revolution. Find some one to mentor you in how to successfully use these tools. Here is a place where you can find some people who will mentor you on how to use twitter. Administrators, please go to educational technology conference yourself. Do not just send others, but experiment for yourself with the possibilities.
After you have seen the creative possibilities out there, share your enthusiasm with your staff and teachers. Encourage them to engage like you have. Demonstrate to your teachers how to build a PLN (personal learning network). Encourage innovation, get rid of filters, train teachers, and turn them loose.
If you create this kind of school, parents will not care about what the newspaper says about your school, but will know that you are creating the best educational environment for their child. They will see the difference in their children who are engaged in school and truly learning. So what are you waiting for? Jump in and become a hero. Our students deserve nothing less.
PS: more ideas from Leadership Day 09 posts here.