Renovate or rebuild?

Do you ever imagine your ideal high school? I do. I spend a lot of time thinking about the future of education and how dramatically learning will shift in the next 10 years. I wonder if public high schools will shift to mirror the learning shift. I wonder if we’ll plan the changes we need in public education quickly enough. I suspect we’ll fall short.

While I’m getting my head around School 2.0, I can’t even begin to grasp how to shift the system I’m currently working in to one so dramatically different. I have this circular conversation with myself where I end up thinking I would need to start from scratch and start a whole new school. Sort of the retail philosophy of finding it easier to tear down an existing store and build a brand new one on the same location, rather than trying to renovate the old one.

Except I love the old store. I really want to renovate it, to transform it into a center for learning that utilizes all of the technologies that are available. I have the big picture. It’s the details I struggle with, like budget and resources, like moving people forward who may be very happy with the current system.

I worry that the enormity of the task will make it too overwhelming to tackle and nothing will happen. Learning is changing every second of every day, with information so readily available that just like on-line shoppers have lessened retail business, on-line learning will lessen our vital spot in the community. If we hope to be the center of learning, if we hope to keep people coming to our “store”, we better make sure we’re the best shop in town. 

  1. Crystal:
    You are so right about much of what you said. I guess what I meant when I said teachers learning alongside of their students was the building of a professional learning community. I work for BOCES as a professional developer and people think I am crazy when I say that my hope is that someday there is no work for me anymore. That districts have built their own internal capacity for learning and sharing that someone from the outside rarely needs to come in. That colleagues open their doors and teach one another – through examination of student work, action research projects, peer coaching, etc. In short – bringing that collegiality you found in graduate courses inside the district! Not a training – no blow in, blow up, blow out in-service dates – but something meaningful, over time which results in a change in practice.
    Yet – as much as we all say we want that, everytime I offer it, I have to cancel it. Why? Folks don’t want to be out of their classrooms (that’s the answer I get) or it might involve some reflective practice and more work when I see what I could do differently (what I hear in private conversations) or it will just take too much time/effort and what is the point- the kids are lazy anyway?(what I hear over Happy Hour.)
    I think Chris S. has hit on something with the change in school culture and the need for professionalism – I’m just not sure I have the answer either. (Not that it will make me stop trying!)

  2. Theresa talks about teachers needing to learn along side students. I completely agree with this, however, there really doesn’t seem to be a lot of incentive for teachers to attend college classes. The amount of increase in pay, in contrast with the cost of courses, just isn’t worth it for a lot of people. On top of that, it doesn’t count toward the PDP hours for teachers who hold a professional certification.

    Yes, I’m hearing all of you loudly saying, college courses aren’t the only opportunities that you have to attend training. For me, I find that college classes are some of the most meaningful training I’ve participated in. A lot of the training we have been receiving through inservice days, and BOCES, just scratch the surface of a new technology, or new technique, and not to toot my own horn, but I’ve made my own web quests, and web sites, and know the basics of using my graphing calculator. I want more than that for training. I want to learn something with a group of collegues that goes indepth, over several sessions, rather than just an afternoon.

    It’s disappointing when you sign up for a workshop, only to find out that what you thought was 3 hours, is only an hours, or that you are just as qualified to teach the workshop as the presenter. I simply crave something more.

  3. I am constantly thinking about how we change the environment of our school and what it is as professionals that we can do to better support or meet the needs of our students. I wonder if better technology, more space in classrooms, better work stations for our students will motivate them and increase the learning that is taking place. The bigger picture is whether or not you have a staff of teachers that are reflective practitioners, do they on a daily basis think about what it is that they are doing in their own individual classroom. How they can improve the learning process for each individual in their class. I am not sure that the process of schooling has changed that much, but the culture of schooling has changed dramatically. The one thing that I definetly agree with from School 2.0 is that it has to be a collective change that you need to include the community, the teachers and the administration, but more importantly than that is that, like a business, we have to get some ideas from our customers who are our students. Maybe that would make us “the best shop in town.”

    Then I come back to the thought of what is taking place at home and in the community. While some of students seemingly get everything that they need from home caring parents, three square meals a day, clothes on their back, and a comfortable place to sleep; there are still a great number of our kids that are not getting those needs met. It is those students that we have to make our school the best shop in town for. What will changing the face of our school do for those students? You could have the greatest teachers in the world and the best technology, but if basic needs are not being met then learning will not take place. If we want to change how our school looks, make it a safe place for all of our kids.

    My final thoughts have to do with the people who are “happy with the current system.” If you are happy with the way that things currently are then education is probably not the profession that you should be in. If we are not constantly reflecting on how to improve our own practice and how we can make things more engaging for our students then we are not doing our job. The way that material is being presented to people in general today is changing on a daily basis. More people today are getting a majority of their information from the internet than they are from books. That is today’s culture whether we like it or not, so how do we incorporate that into the learning process. The fine line in education is how we teach to the whole and how we pull up the students that maybe functioning at a lower level. I am not sure that I exactly know how to do that, but I do know that we must have high expectations for all of our students.

  4. I’ve been pondering this same thought since we attended “High School’s New Face” this summer. For me, high school wasn’t hard but for many of my friends (and one sibling) it wasn’t something that worked for them. We needed that change 20 years ago – and we still need that change now. One pretty powerful connection that hit home for me this weekend was listening to a keynote presentation from Giselle Martin-Kniep on building professional learning communities at the middle level. She commented that there have been at least 19 years of reform aimed at middle level education (my true passion) and yet nothing has changed – and nothing will until we starting figuring out a way to integrate professional learning communities. Places where the teachers learn right alongside their students.

    This really shouldn’t be a novel idea, should it? So why haven’t we taken this first, and seemingly easy, step toward real change?

    I think that blogs like this are cracking the ice a bit and helping us move forward – sort of a virtual professional learning community. Now we need to get everyone else on board. I’ve learned that I need to not rush change or hope that it happens to fast. That the time needs to be ripe for us to reach the “tipping point.” But I am hoping that high school looks somewhat different before my nieces and nephew get there!!

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