Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Change is Coming!

Last week’s #edchat topic was change.  The question: What changes do you see coming to your school in the future?  

There really wasn’t a lot of response to this question, no big innovative ideas on the horizon for schools and districts (at least among the teachers chatting on Tuesday morning).  And, I wondered… do teachers have nothing to say because change creeps up on us slowly?  When change becomes institutionalized, it no longer feels like change.  And no one really wants change to be imposed on us, it should rise from within the community in response to a need or a better vision of the future.

So… teachers in their individual classrooms are doing innovative things.  They are applying creative ideas in the course of their instruction, making changes to their environments, altering routines and planning differently.  But we can’t say it is a school or district-wide change that is occurring, because these things are happening in isolated corners of buildings, at the end of my hallway, and behind someone’s door.  When my colleague shares her innovative practice with me, and then our whole grade level jumps on board, this isn’t school-wide change (yet).  Then another grade level joins in, and finally when everyone is doing it… it can no longer be called change!  If we are doing what a friend was talking about last year, that's nothing new.

So, I see no big shifts occurring suddenly in my school or district.  But, I can make some predictions about the future.

Testing - I believe we will see a day, in the not so distant future, when students no longer sit in a computer lab for hours doing state testing. In my opinion, the opt-out movement will be the catalyst for innovation here.  Maybe, the idea of formative assessment (smaller, quick checks along the way) will become the model for school assessment.  These can be valid and reliable, norm referenced and administered with fidelity… but they will be quick peeks to check the temperature of our schools.  Academic screeners will determine whether more diagnostic assessments are required in specific cases.  There will still be oversight and accountability, but it will become more manageable and less intrusive to our teaching and learning environments.  

Personalized Learning Opportunities - I think we will see a greater shift from content based instruction to the development of skills, attitudes and habits that can be applied across learning environments.  The job of teachers of the future will be to teach strategies for questioning, thinking, investigating and solving problems.  We will provide the environment, the tools and opportunity to explore, inquire, create and communicate. We will teach kids to learn rather than teach kids “stuff”.

Flexible Schedules and Learning Environments - I believe we will see more blended learning environments.  Students in early grades are likely to spend the day at “school” because parents are working, but they will move about the building and the grounds.  We will see more community gardens at school and interactive playgrounds.  We will have maker spaces and workshops in the library.  Students will interact across grade level and content area as they pursue learning projects that make a difference for their community.  We will see more involvement from community members and businesses, and kids will make connections.  In middle and high school, I envision students attending “classes” on a fixed schedule as needed, but also independently from their home online in the evening so they can work or volunteer in the community where they will practice skills that can’t be measured on a standardized test.

Integrated Curriculum - Teachers and businesses are advocating for 21st Century Skills, and more STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).  And, as folks get excited about the potential for future scientists and engineers other folks are saying ”Hey, what about me?” And so STEM becomes STEAM to include art.  STEAM becomes STREAM to indicate the need to read across content areas.  A friend shared her excitement for STEAM but the A stood for agriculture in her enthusiastic telling.  All of these changing acronyms say to me that we are still thinking in boxes and isolated curriculum areas.  But, I also believe this debate and dialogue is an indication that we are coming back to the “integrated day” that I learned about 24 years ago in my education program at Hope University.  We are coming to realize there isn’t time in the day for a 2 hour reading block, then 1/2 hour writing, and 45 minutes of science.  When will we fit math in the schedule?  Besides… we learn better when skills are practiced in meaningful context.  

Change is coming!  Either it’s creeping up on us slowly and we aren’t calling it change, or the pace of change in the world is so fast that when everything is changing … it’s hard to say what change is really settling in.