Friday, November 6, 2015

Giving Students a Real Voice

For the past several months I have marveled in admiration as I have watched Idea Street (albeit virtually) evolve at the Northfield Community Middle School.  Idea Street, the vision of principal Glenn Robbins, his staff and students, creates daily authentic learning opportunities. The products they continue to create, result from students taking advantage of the chance to learn what they want to learn.  With the guidance of their teachers they explore new adventurous avenues of learning often, all the while staying within the framework of a curriculum. The results are quite inspiring. Maker spaces located throughout the school promote and reveal student creativity and artistry.

One thing unmistakable after reading Glenn's postings about this innovative new initiative is that student enthusiasm is off the charts.  It is obvious that his students embrace their opportunities to come to school each day.  This is an environment where students are engaged and empowered on a consistent basis.

As an industry the time has come to take a hard and honest look at the benefits of creating environments where student voice and choice take center stage. Transformative things happen with student achievement when our students are engaged. Schools like Northfield provide all the proof one needs. 

Talk to teachers nationwide about their successful implementation of Project Based Learnimg and one cannot help be impressed. When students have a choice in their learning their investment in their learning is strengthened as well. Consequently the quality of their work improves and measurable sustained growth occurs.

Our state and federal governments continue to enact and implement educational reforms based on their perception of how to best equip our students for the 21st challenges they will face upon graduation. The suggestion here is to give students a seat at the table.  Give them a voice in the type of reforms that need constructing based on their diverse needs as learners. Once we  truly understand the landscape from a student perspective, we can enrich, strengthen and truly authenticate future reforms.

The voices that get the most attention, should be the ones that have the most at stake. School districts throughout the country continue to demonstrate the value of promoting learning where students have a voice. It's time for our legislators at the state and federal level to first sit down and listen to educators and their students. Then, based on these conversations, constuct a transformative educational agenda with the necessary financing to support it.  When we finally commit to this, we will finally provide our children with a true voice in their educational pursuits.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Value of Connection

Since our earliest days on this planet, we have clearly understood the value of our connection and our ability to work cooperatively with others.  Our service to one another within various communities, consistently demonstrates the benefits and joys that accompany connection. We were not meant to live out our existence in isolation. Quite the contrary, we were meant to make available an infinite supply of knowledge and resources for our human counterparts. It is imperative to our survival that we continue to take advantage of this.  

Simply put, we are better together than we are apart.

Working in collaboration with one another as global citizens increases our chances for success, in a world where common challenges are shared. Sharing perspectives and strengthening our connections with each other doesn't  just  move communities forward, it allows for forward movement on a global scale as well. International communities move forward because global leaders collaborate.

Through our connections with others today, we inspire and elevate each other to potentially great heights.  Moreover, our growth is a direct result of the new connections and resources that we continue to pursue. Making ourselves available to each other and investing in our progress, is a definite recipe for success.

Our personal success stories are a direct result of the connections that we make with others and the manner in which they influence our lives. As children we sought connections with adult role models from various areas of our lives. Family, teachers, and coaches were happy to serve in this capacity and their influence still lives within us today.  Our connection with them as children has unquestionably shaped our lives as adults. Our approach in establishing relationships with children today is a direct reflection of their guidance.

As a 21st century educator, I embrace the reality that each September a new group of enthusiastic students arrive on my doorstep.  Each one is eagerly looking to make a connection and build a relationship. Connections with each student may vary in intensity, but each student needs to believe that they are special and a valued member of our classroom community. These connections are vital to the development of student confidence and the attainment of their personal success.

The other day while attending a funeral service for a beloved colleague and friend,  I experienced first hand the value of student/teacher connection. In a touching eulogy, one of our former students spoke eloquently about his beloved teacher and friend who had recently passed away. He spoke of an emotional connection with his beloved teacher and friend that had ultimately  transformed his life. Her belief and faith in him, along with her unwavering commitment to him over the years, led to great personal triumphs. Perhaps the most noteworthy finds him today serving as a successful classroom teacher. Her connection to him and thousands of other students, will be an enormous part of her professional legacy.

Our ability to connect with each other continues to increase at an unprecedented rate due to the tools provided by social media. We must continue to use these tools as a vehicle to drive personal and social change. The chances for global progress as a result of global connectivity has never been greater. It is imperative that we continue to take advantage of this opportunity and then pass it on to our children. Then, hopefully like us, they will find joy in the world they inherit and understand the true value of connection.