In a powerful TEDx talk, Seth Godin asked “What is school for?” (Click on this link to view; it’s sure to stretch your mind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXpbONjV1Jc). As I was preparing to be a school leader and even acting in the role my first year or so, I don’t think I recognized how important it was to explore this question as a school entity to make sure that everyone in a building had a pretty clear understanding of it collectively. Without a collective answer to this question, how can students know what’s expected? How can faculty and staff help them reach the nebulous and inconsistent target?
Godin points out that “What school is for,” is changing rapidly. No longer do we need to model schools after factories, because so few students’ paths will take them to work in factories anymore. No longer is it important to receive or produce “1 size fits all” products (graduates).
One could certainly argue, perhaps rightfully so, that the reform movement, with the emphasis on standardized testing and school personnel being evaluated primarily on the results, is creating a more incongruous set of experiences for students by enforcing such strict adherence to certain guidelines on one hand and asking teachers to be innovative and project-based on the other hand.
Godin discussed some implications for professional development, as many others of my #SAVMP colleagues have also done in their recent posts. I agree that it’s vital to help teachers understand the use of technology to enhance lessons and the use of data to inform instruction, in a way that meets the individual teacher’s needs. No longer relevant is the model of professional development of having “expert” speakers coming into schools as maybe it once was. As school leaders, having relationships to know what’s needed by the staff members of your building is necessary. This can take the form of surveying them. It also takes the form of just being in classrooms and knowing what’s happening and knowing your in-building experts on certain topics who can assist peers with during professional development time. What’s additionally important is the leader being transparent in knowing what they don’t know, and being willing to share and announce their own growth (and blunders).
One such example of this sticks in my memory, because I’ve had colleagues from my last K-12 position remind me of it from time to time. Apparently, according to others, this particular PD session was relevant to many people and made a lasting impression. I had recently dealt with a situation that required some individual attention paid to a particular staff member in reference to working with ELL students. In the process of talking to students in our ESL program, I discovered a trend of these particular students feeling very disenfranchised and unwanted due to certain actions (probably inadvertent, but still concerning) from multiple staff members and teachers in the building.
In order to address the issue, during a faculty meeting, I shared a story about myself as a teacher, when I had been extremely insensitive to one of my first ever ELL students. In being willing to be transparent about my own weaknesses and mistakes, I was also able to reach some faculty members who perhaps wouldn’t have heard the message as clearly had I simply told them more tips about working with ELL students.
Transparency and openness in a leader, plus her continued example of professional learning, provide the exemplar for the rest of the teachers, staff and then students. This helps the personnel of school buildings and communities jointly answer the question, “What’s school for?”