Putting Students First
Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great” elaborates on ideas that show that organizations who wish to remain competitive and growing need to confront some of their own brutal facts. He contents that by doing so leaders can transform an organization from something that is merely getting the job done to something that will be recognized as unique and that the organization could be recognized as a leader in that particular field (Collins, 2001). The truth of the matter is that schools such, as the one the writer works in, also has to do the same thing. Many schools must face the fact that they fail miserably to meet the ideals, mission or core values that they themselves adopted and believe in. For instance, one would be hard pressed to find a school that does not want their students engaged as global citizens. This goal is often overtly stated in the school’s mission and vision statements. The truth is that most schools struggle to have student learn about global issues, and nearly all fail to have the student enrolled in their schools study or attempt to provide ideas and solutions to some of these very puzzling dilemmas. (Betts, 2007) More significant perhaps of the many brutal facts that could be listed is that many of the practices and procedures that are in place in schools around the world are created to benefit the adults in the school rather than to benefit the students.
“We are often more concerned, for example, that each teacher has an equal teaching load than whether individual students have equal opportunity to learn” (2007, p. 1).
and then states,
“For too long we in education have been too easy on ourselves. Too willing to accept the perceptions when finding the facts is either too hard or too demoralizing. We somehow have exempted ourselves from one of the primary ingredients that actually constitutes a profession – facing the facts and holding ourselves accountable” (2007, p. 2).
Addressing these and other brutal facts is obviously no simple task, otherwise school leaders around the world would be doing this with ease and confidence. Unfortunately it appears that this is really no easy task.
The first of the areas that this writer would address is time structures and scheduling. As an employee in an international school in one of the largest cities in the world, the concept of the agrarian-based calendar seems a misplaced and inconsistent with the idea that learning is best in an on-going, lifelong and must be continuous program that allow learning managed and nurtured (Cooper, 2003). The mere idea of halting the educational process for a summer to relax is clearly stuck in an outdated model of education. Modified calendars seem to have a strong effect on student learning—especially for disadvantaged and lower achieving students—and that people involved in the modified school calendar structures are extremely pleased with the result (Cooper, 2003).
The second (but certainly not last) brutal fact that needs to be addressed is the true lack of innovation that is taken on by schools. This writer believes that by recognizing the importance of innovation and investing appropriate resources for innovation, true educational reform can be moved to the forefront of our classrooms.
“Almost no school can claim “the ability to innovate” as one of its school-wide learning standards. How frightening for our on-going civilization to imagine another generation educated for compliance rather than innovation” (p. 1).
Innovation is no easy thing to manage, especially in an environment of conservative thought. Pressures are on all sides for the innovator in education. There is low tolerance for risk-taking by parents of students in the schools who see innovation not as a step in the right direction, but more experimentation with their children. Politicians are frequently demanding innovation; yet they fail to recognize the need to fund and support research and development as an important part of the educational process. In the hallways themselves, the colleagues in the next classroom, sitting at the lunch tables and in the association memberships also put up road blocks and are oppositional to innovative ideas that will force them to change their practice.
Barriers for Change
Moving a school to a more learner-centered organization must begin with the teachers and administrators who must become learners themselves. Looking at the major trends in education in the past 5 years one would note that all require significant changes—and thus learning by the educators—to implement in a sustainable and consistent manner. Whether it be technology topics such as personal technological devices, cloud computing, game-based learning or augmented reality approaches, the classrooms that we have today will need to be significantly changed to meet these demands (Johnson, Smith, Levine, & Haywood, 2011).
Again, the brutal facts are that the internet has made our lives easier in some respects and more complex in others. This resource will drive us to revisit how we teach, learn and run our lives as many learners have realized that we can and want to learn, both individually and collaboratively, anywhere and everywhere (Johnson, Smith, Levine, & Haywood, 2011). Strong learning organizations must recognize that culturally, steps must be taken to allow people to work together effectively and that the organization itself is willing to support this process (Brandt, 2003).
As Walt Kelly stated on his 1970 earth day poster, “Yep son, we have met the enemy and he is us” (as cited by White, 2008, para. 11). The same holds true for education. Schools mustcome together and recognize that the organizations are stronger as a whole than as a segmented collection of independent educators.
As mentioned earlier, it is this writer’s belief that schools must more aggressively become centers of innovation and become true learning organizations. As a rule, humans love to learn and gain great amounts of satisfaction from learning something new. Humans are also very social and learn, faster and more effectively with more pleasure if we learn by helping others (Svinivki & McKeachie, 2011). Thus, it is this writer’s contention that schools need to shift their learning paradigm to become a learning organization and support this idea with focused, ongoing and sustained support.
Cohen notes that,
“A paradigm is a standard model, a set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices in which a community shares their reality. It establishes regulations and boundaries” (Cohen, N.D.).
If schools are to create this paradigm they must realize that incentive structures must be built to help facilitate the creation and on-going development of a learning organization. Schools must set learning goals for all members of the organization and communicate about those goals regularly. Data analysis of all types must be part of the educational norms of an organization and expansion of an institutional knowledge base must be encouraged to allow for expanded capacity to learn together. Schools must be open to feedback from their students, from the parents, community member, and from the internal community. The schools must be poised to continuously make the systems in place for the students better, more effective and more efficient – building a school that is supportive and professionally enhancing (Brandt, 2003).
“Learning organizations are ‘open systems” sensitive to the external environment, including social, political, and economic conditions” (2003, p. 16).
Whether it be an independent international school like the one in which the writer works, or a large unified public school system in the states, it is imperative that school build structures for building internal capacity to address the multiple challenges of change that are faced around the world.
Betts, B. (2007, December). The Principals Training Center. Retrieved November 11, 2011, from PTC Resources: http://www.theptc.org/storage/images/Brutal%20FactsDec07%20.pdf
Brandt, R. (2003). Is this school a learning organization; 10 ways to tell. Journal of Staff Development , 24 (1), 10-16.
Cohen, A. (N.D.). 21st century educational paradigms and today’s ttudents. Miami Beach, Florida, USA.
Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great. New York, New York: HarperCollins.
Cooper, H. (2003). Summer Learning Loss: The Problem and Some Solutions. Children’s Research Center. Champaign, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.
Johnson, L., Smith, R., Levine, A., & Haywood, K. (2011). The 2011 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
Svinivki, M., & McKeachie, W. J. (2011). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Thirteenth Edition. Belmont, CA, USA: Wadsworth.
White, M. (2008). I go Pogo. Retrieved November 11, 2011, from We have met the enemy… and he is us: http://www.igopogo.com/we_have_met.htm