Saturday, February 14, 2009

Where Do I Fit In?

Last Monday I went to a discussion at Colorado University called “Bridges to the Future – A Nation Still at Risk: The Future of Education.” The topic of the evening was “Educational Practices and Policy in the 21st Century.” It was a panel discussion between the former superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Jerry Wartgow, a middle school teacher and finalist of the 2008 presidential award teaching award, Jen Phillips, and a principal and key education advisor to President Obama, Michael Johnston. It was quite a panel discussion and I thought I would share a few ideas here of their thoughts.

In their opening statements Mr. Wartgow commented on the 991 factor. That 9 percent of a student’s life between birth and high school graduation is spent inside the school, while 91 percent of it is spent outside of it. He really challenged me to think about that. Is our content really that relevant to students’ lives? How do we as educators take into account for the other 91 percent of students’ lives? Do we discount it all together, or do we bring it into the classroom and make the 91 percent apply to the 9 percent?

Ms. Phillips noted two significant shifts in education happening today. One, she said was a shift from teaching to learning. No longer can we just stand in front of the class and teach material. We are now collaborating, meeting in Professional Learning Communities, and working together collaboratively to tackle content and make it relevant to our students in the 21st Century. The second shift she mentioned was that from knowledge to 21st Century readiness. She says this shift is that from just knowing the content to actually applying in the 21st Century. How is what we are teaching really relevant? Is what we are teaching relevant? How do we make it relevant? She said, “Teachers and systems need to recognize the need of their students and work together to make those possible.” How are we doing this at AHS? What about in higher education?

Mr. Johnston is accomplished not only for being President Obama’s key education advisor, but because he started the first high school (to his knowledge) that has had 100 percent of its graduating seniors go on to college – the first time ever in the state of Colorado. He said a couple of really cool things I thought. One, that education is about people. It always has and it always will be, but what needs to change is to start keeping the good people. He said that a board of education member in California once said, “There is not a shortage of highly qualified teachers, but a shortage of environments that highly qualified teachers want to teach in.” That made me really consider the question, is AHS an environment that highly qualified teachers want to teach in? I think so, but some other schools I have visited are the exact opposite. How do we maintain or change the school environment across the country to keep highly qualified teachers? That is still a question to be answered. Mr. Johnston also said this, “The art of teaching is not the what, but the how.” Across the country most classrooms are teaching very similar content, but just in different ways. How do we take some of those most effective ways of teaching content, the how, and expand that on a broad, national level? That is another question that is still to be answered. He also said, “It is no longer a question of if good teaching and best practices are happening today, but finding it, growing it, and scaling it out.” Where are educators doing the best things with the content – I would say AHS does a pretty good job of this, but where else across the country? How do we find it? Then how to we grow that to a point and in a model that can be copied across the country in both small, rural schools and large, urban schools so that education can continue to thrive in the 21st Century?

The rest of the conversation lasted on technology, teaching, parental involvement, and a few other topics, but what really hit me was this: Where do I fit in?

All three educators agreed on this point: “We are at the cusp of educational knowledge right now.” No one knows exactly where to go and what to do, we have some ideas, some very good ideas, but no one has a great idea of best practices, data driven content, and professional development. How can we take the good things and scale them out? That is the question in this new day.

Once again, where do I fit in? I have a passion for teaching, technology, and teaching other teachers how to be better teachers. I have loved going to PLC days, hearing what other teachers are doing, and then I am looking forward to going back to Wartburg and sharing what I have learned about teaching, technology, and learning. I want to know what other people are doing across the educational world and I want to teach people how to be better teachers through the use of technology in the classroom.

What are some cool, new ideas to incorporate technology into education? How do I teach that to others? Is that by teaching for a few years? Is that consulting with small school districts? Is that by talking to higher education institutions about technology and learning? Is that applying a K-12 educational model to a higher learning institution? Is that fixing computers and having an outlet that way? Is it traveling around the US to highly achieving, highly qualified teachers and watching them teach? Then taking that knowledge and writing a book about good teaching? Is that by writing this blog?

Where do I go from here? Do they have a job that fits all that? What is it and where do I sign up? I feel like I can do something to change the world, the world of education, in a big way. But what does that look like? How do I do that? Anyone have ideas? Better yet, anyone know of a job opening that fits all that?