My local school board is revisiting their vision statement. The revised vision states,
Our ISD will be an exemplary district where the whole student is taught and every student is provided a safe, rigorous, high-quality learning environment. Teaching will be student-centered; research based, and will enable lifelong learning. Every student will be a graduate and every graduate will be college ready, work ready, and prepared to be a productive citizen.
This news made me pull out a favorite book of mine, The Global Achievement Gap, written by the education expert, Tony Wagner. I heard Tony Wagner speak last spring. He is co-director of the Change Leadership Group (CLG) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He writes wisely, without jargon, about the needed changes in our education system if we are going to maintain our place in global competition.
What would Mr. Wagner say about BISD’s vision statement? I hear the following conversation between Wagner, my local school board members, and school staff.
Wagner: So, are we saying we want to improve student learning? If so, then let’s cut through all of the flowery educationese and just say it-the only goal that really matters is improving our students? learning. Of course, if we say we are going to improve student learning then we have to improve teaching and the coaching of teachers.
Our ISD Board: Whoa! If you are going to talk about improving teaching, you have to talk about what makes good instruction! There is no way we will get our staff to agree on such a topic.
Wagner: If you are going to talk about good instruction, you have to talk to one another about what is working and not working in your classroom, open the classroom doors, visit each other’s classrooms and schools, talk about what we see and hear and be open to trying something new.
Our ISD Staff: Wait just a minute! When do we have time to be so open and intimate about teaching? We barely have time to check e-mail, return parent phone calls, fill out the 50 pages of paperwork required just to get someone to come look at the kids in our classes with urgent needs.
Tony Wagner’s book takes on the challenge of answering these valid concerns and seriously solving these problems. He advises a district to start a conversation with its staff about best practices and to decide upon a common model of teaching and learning.
According to Tony Wagner’s experience, successful, collaborative schools are learning and assessment focused. The spotlight is on mastery of broad concept-based learning, not memorization. The educators know their job is complete when the children have shown they are able to apply these concepts in real world structured activities.
According to Tony Wagner, successful schools motivate students to learn. Relationships are key to motivation. Small groups of students are assigned to advisors and adults who work with them inside and outside of school during the week. Learning should be hands on and real world oriented in order to engage students.
Finally, Wagner writes that his research supports both school accountability and teacher development as key to a school’s success. These schools use data-based information to improve their academic programs. High-stakes assessment scores are only a small part of the data these schools use to make decisions about instructional focus.
I applaud the local school district leaders for refocusing on their vision for our schools. I encourage them to listen to people like Tony Wagner about restructuring instruction, Douglas Reeves on Professional Development and Richard DeFour on Collaborative Decision Making and Common Assessments as they solve the problem of how to improve learning for all of our students.