Friday, September 16, 2011

Innovative Schools Committee - Summary

A group of teachers, administrators, and parents met over the period of a year, every three weeks, to discuss topics related to meeting the needs of the students in the Sylvan Union School District now and well into the future and provide the school board with recommendations. We brainstormed needs, and we looked at the projected trajectory of where the future is taking us, and how those needs can be addressed in light of the directions we are heading.

Initially, the needs shared numbered well over a 100 and discussions continued to define, combine, and describe them as succinctly as possible. At times, the information shared regarding our changing hyper-connected world and our steadfast educational system seemed disjoint. We struggled as a team to discover models and solutions that others have successfully implemented and may hold promise in our own. Our school district’s background has been rooted in success and achievement for students. The past models of instruction have served us and our students well to this point, and looking at some of the models left us questioning whether continuing with our current model might not be such a bad idea. However, we realize the world is changing and the demands that our world put on us are changing too. In order to server our students needs in the current world, we need to change along with it.

Our current students will be entering a world where the opportunities provided by the older system are becoming extinct. Our economy is suffering and our unemployment percentage is at about 18%. When things do improve, the jobs and needs of our world will no longer consist of those that have for so many years, been the staple of our young, educated population. In the place of those old jobs will be those that place a premium on creativity and imagination. It goes without saying that in order for our students to be successful in these core skills, they must possess a basic understanding simple principles of communication, computation, and critical thinking. We must instill in our students a desire of continual questioning and a seeking of answers, a desire for life long learning. We should never instill in our students the idea that there is a point when learning is not needed or complete. Learning is never complete and there is no end to learning.

The Innovative Schools Committee ultimately came up with 5 key recommendations. Each one was presented to the school board in subsequent board meetings this summer. They are:

1. Digital Revolution - Direct staff to create a timeline identifying strategic components and requirements necessary to provide students and schools with resources to support online instruction in blended format, alternative ed format, and accelerated instruction model.

2. Meaningful Assessments - Direct staff to keep in mind the following principles when designing and evaluating assessments:
  • Know who’s learning;
  • Attempt to build fun, pleasure, and satisfaction into core assessment loop;
  • Change the learner assessment experience over time; a good learning experience takes the learner on a journey;
  • Build assessments that reward what is learned and provide goals for improvement;
  • Create assessments that clearly define paths to future goals;
  • Design assessments that increase challenge and complexity: create conditions for flow;
  • Provide assessments that incorporate intrinsic motivators like power, autonomy, and belonging.

3. Home/School Communication - Direct staff to create guidelines for home/school communication that account for new technologies and modern communication practices.

4. Changing Roll of Teacher - The committee asks the board to direct leadership to invest an equivalent amount of resources in the development of passionate, curious, enthusiastic, and creative staff equal to professional development in the area of academic student achievement.

*(Translation - As with students, the success of our teachers with the challenges of educating a modern population will require creativity and imagination. Without fostering those skills in ourselves, we will be at a loss of fostering those skills in our students.)

5. Global Relevance - The committee asks the board to direct staff to incorporate the five concepts shared by the Innovative Schools Committee into the work of the PLC and its charge of designing strategies that address improving student learning and our schools.

*(Translation - Global Relevance in today’s world translates into working collaboratively with your peers, whether they are in the classroom next to you or across an ocean. The initial steps to being globally relevant start very small and close to home. The PLC, Professional Learning Communities, system is the beginning of this process and fosters habits and strategies that eventually promote global relevance.)

The work of the Innovative Schools Committee and the 5 recommendations presented are by no means the end of the work. This is only the beginning of a process that will continue to evolve with the continued effort of dedicated community, educators, staff, parents and students. 

*(Image courtesy of leedsyorkshire, CreativeCommons Licensed  )