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Learning at its Best

My Inner Pollyanna’s Ed Reform Blue Sky

Even amid the heated education debates & discourse, my inner Pollyanna still dream’s big. Here’s my blue sky, if I had my way:

1. United Teachers

They become a force to be reckoned with. Politicians, news outlets, and policy makers take notice and make room at the table. They ask teachers questions like, “What can we do to attract more of your ilk to the profession, and then keep you once you’re there?” For their part, teachers capitalize on the collaborative curve and explore new frontiers of pedagogy.

(Doesn’t mean they don’t disagree. Unity isn’t panacea. Discourse & debate leads to insight.)

2. Arm Chair Experts Think

The general public allows the recent single story focus to be the proverbial foot in the door. Nuanced perspectives, ideas, and ground floor realities become the swell that swings the door wide open. Before snapping to judgement based on simple talking points, the average citizen listens & reflects on a broad range of points of view.

3. Long Term Visioning

We decide, “You know, this horse race mentality to improving schools only offers short term gains. Let’s start planting seeds today that will bear fruit in the next generation. Let’s envision the types of learning environments that lead to transformative learning experiences, and set a course toward them.”

4. USA’s Finland

We talk highly of our teachers, create environments that allow them to connect with each student, cultivate incentives that attract & keep the best and the brightest, put 3 teachers in each classroom, implement lean standards that encourage educator autonomy, and pay all teachers a professional’s living wage.

5. Whole Child Education

It becomes accepted practice to think of the whole child when we think about making a difference in students’ lives. We look to Geoffrey Canada’s cradle to college model and realize it is worth the time, money and effort to honestly give all children the services they and their family need to prepare them for life.

6. Teaching Career Ladder

The young and ambitious see topography in the education field. We integrate teacher leadership models that balance teaching students with teaching teachers, developing curricula, and/or working in administration, thereby offering compelling challenges to our most inspired new talent.

7. Motivated Students

Students see school as a place that cultivates their dreams and gives them an authentic opportunity to apply skills in novel and meaningful contexts.  They feel valued as individuals, yet pushed to be their best. At school, students feel loved, accepted and driven.

8. Curriculum of Relevance

Taking advantage of the copious resources technology provides, teachers are able to tailor curricula to meet the needs and interests of the immediate community, balancing lean national standards with nuanced homegrown lessons & units. Students engage in lessons that take them beyond the classroom walls and into their communities.

9. Concept Labs

Making school relevant means increasing connections between schools, teachers, admin, parents, and the needs of neighborhoods, cities, states, country, & globe. Students become experienced and  versed in current ideas and concepts. Partnerships between researchers and educators provide students exposure to raw materials and industry problems, priming them for tackling more complex issues as adults. They graduate job skill ready.

10. Equitable Collaboration

Vested interests in education have equal seats at the table. Students, parents, teachers, admin, and policy makers all have a voice helping to shape where we are going. Listening happens.

11. Enlightened Philanthropy

Philanthropists, businesses & tax payers realize that the quality of educational programming at schools like Sidwell Friends (where Obama’s girls attend) necessitates cultivating the conditions in those schools in all public schools — charter or not.

12. Rhetoric Stimulus Package

What we talk about when we talk about education.

We use terms such as engaging, relevance, vigor, integration, investigation, creativity, differentiation, whole child, creativity, application, communication, media-literacy, technology, service learning, and equal access in addition to accountability, standards, basic skills and achievement.

13. Teacher Training

The best and the brightest are recruited, trained in both practical skills & pedagogical theory, and given ample opportunity to apprentice under seasoned teachers. Their professional development is personalized to help ensure they enter the classroom prepared and passionate, and stay that way.

14. Evaluation

Students, teachers, & admin are not judged by test alone. We develop more nuanced evaluative tools for targeting specific responsibilities that lead to our goal of developing . . .

15. Life Long Learners

The primary goal of our learning institutions is to help students become life long learners. We find that with the right conditions curiosity can survive an education. Students graduate able to research and investigate a broad range of topics. They find that those skills can be applied to whichever field of study they choose to pursue.

Students look back and realize that their education provided the building blocks for constructing the lives of their dreams.

This post was originally published at Ecology of Education.

Image: Layout Sparks

About Jason Flom

Teacher, advocate, father, husband, and learner with Polyannic tendencies. I daydream about bikes, climbs, and helping ensure curiosity survives education.


10 thoughts on “My Inner Pollyanna’s Ed Reform Blue Sky

  1. ASCD has been pushing a whole child model for a while now. Are you aware of it? If not, you’d find it very worth your time. While I think Canada deserves some credit for insisting on addressing wrap-around services, he is by far not the first to talk about educating the whole child.

    Posted by teacherken | October 16, 2010, 9:55 pm
  2. Thanks for the comment, Ken. If all is right in the world, the link on the whole child section should go to ASCD’s effort. Hopefully your comment will help to point more folks toward their good work in that regard. Cheers.

    Posted by Jason Flom | October 16, 2010, 10:02 pm
  3. this. forever.

    Posted by Deanna | October 16, 2010, 10:05 pm
  4. This is a great list and also more of what we should be doing!
    Yes it is fun to complain and fight, but in the end it just keeps us running in circles, in a race of us vs them…. the us and them changing based on what side your on! And there is power in this struggle, just not sure it works in the long run.

    We need pragmatic and positive steps, we need t0 talk about what we want to see and do, and less of what about what is broken, plenty of energy and time is being done doing that(100’s of books are written that address the broken system) (do we need more)….

    we need to reach a hand out not a fist. Lets listen not argue, lets take a moment to realize we can not do it alone….and if we do, we are limiting the change that we can truly see. Pollyanna or not, change happens when we look positivity toward what we want, not always blaming and bickering….. Asking What your list include is a powerful first step…. what change do you hope to see? What change are you going to be?

    It starts with each and everyone of us…. looking inward and being willing to stand up and say “I am willing to do something tomorrow that will positive change the world, because by changing myself, I change the world.”

    Share your change, share the little things you do! Share on your blog, share it on facebook, share it with friends and family, share it with parents and community members! We are as powerful as we want to be, Our Voice will be heard, the time is right!

    Speak up!

    Today I listened to children enjoying life, I listen to children learning by watching, today I took a moment to think of the world, about the fact that children live without the burden of history or fear of the future. I watched as they smiled and laughed, were excited by the mere feeling of their mom’s sweater…. I watched and dreamed of a school that would help to nurture that experience, not control it, not measure it to prove its worth. Today I dreamed of a society that looked at moments like this as reasons to continue to try and rehumanize our society, to showcase the person not the data, to cherish the sense of community not the isolation of the rat race…. to began to live a lifestyle that is about being and becoming not having!

    Thank you for sharing your positive dreams, what are you doing tomorrow to make them realities?

    Posted by dloitz | October 17, 2010, 12:46 am
    • “Change happens when we look positively toward what we want, not always blaming & bickering.”

      So true.

      The trap I let myself fall into: being distracted, or heated, by what I consider the yellow journalism of the moment. Rather than look beyond it toward the goal, I think I need to stand and fight it. Then, I find I’m locked in the type of struggle that polarizes and dichotomizes the debate. At the same time, if we don’t take the time to deconstruct the errors of theory & perception that shape the future, we run the risk of being run over by a movement we failed to acknowledge.

      Hence my on-going dilemma: The Skeptic vs. The Pollyanna. How do you do it? How do you find the balance between fighting the necessary fight and zeroing in on other goals?

      As for the question of tomorrow, it is the question we should all be asking ourselves each morning. Thanks for the reminder. Cheers. 🙂

      Posted by Jason Flom | October 18, 2010, 10:49 pm
  5. This is awesome Jason. I’m so glad you are posting as part of our cooperative.

    We talked on Twitter about the possibility of a World wide education association. In a Utopian society, every educator would be able to collaborate with any other educators they choose from around the world in order to produce the absolute best education systems we can. I’d include this in my Pollyanne’s list of things I’d like to see as part of education reform.

    There are a number of groups of teachers starting which include educators from around the world. I’m thinking of EduPLN or Classroom2.0 here. None of these groups is what I would call organized though and although the collaboration opportunities are awesome, I’d like to see an organization which could do more.

    Posted by dwees | October 17, 2010, 7:10 pm
    • I wonder how these little pockets of collaborative efforts will build over time. I’m thinking of islands off Florida, built, accidentally, by natives who happened to all huck their oyster shells in the same place for generations and generations. Before long the piles became mounds and then islands. With the flood gates to collaboration open, I think we are all making these connections (EduPLN & Classroom2.0 included) that will essentially set the stage for tomorrow’s educators to stand on. Or at least that’s what my Pollyanna dreams. 🙂

      It will be interesting to see how this educator uprising of the past couple of years shakes out. Just 3 years ago, NBC may have gotten away w/ not including a single teacher. Sure, we would’ve all written letters to the editor that might’ve been published after the fact, but in this day and age we can actually make a stink that necessitates immediate action (not that a lot of action was taken, but you get my meaning). Let me know if you find that organization that can do more.

      Posted by Jason Flom | October 18, 2010, 10:38 pm
  6. Jason – what a heartening list!

    Non-rhetorically, where does all of this take place? Is this post an argument about what it would take to make our current system work for all kids, or is it an argument for something else entirely?

    Thanks for presenting a group of such worthwhile goals for us to move toward in our work.

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | October 18, 2010, 9:43 pm
    • It’s not an argument at all, it’s a day dream. : )

      I think all of these things are happening in pockets all over our continent and the world. I think we inevitably fall short of achieving our goal whenever we try to scale up specifics that worked in one location and expect them to work else where. I think broader norms are more likely to resonate in more places. Meaning, the specific sequence of units one teacher finds works best with one group of students will not necessarily work best for another teacher in another community. However, pedagogical “bones” will translate — constructing lessons around objectives, engaging students, assessing if objectives were met, etc. Those professional practices transcend time and space, even if the content scope & sequence don’t.

      The funny thing to me is, almost every time we read about “The Teacher That Changed My Life” we hear about how passionate that teacher was, their care & concern, and their ability to connect with and motivate students. Those kinds of behaviors, that lead to transformative learning experiences for students, can not be scaled up just b/c we’ve set a curricula in place and hired a teacher. It takes a differentiated approach to developing each and every teacher, not just professionally, but personally as well.

      Again, I’ve landed in dream-ville. I have no specifics to offer except I think small schools have great potential for re-individualizing the learning experience. We need admin in the classroom, teachers who feel supported & trusted, and students who feel valued, pushed, & appreciated. That seems a much harder stretch in our larger institutions where seas of kids float adrift and teachers are told what to teach and when to teach it.

      Posted by Jason Flom | October 18, 2010, 10:31 pm


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