Sunday, March 15, 2009

Week 26: The Leading Edge: How Can Benton get There?

What does it mean to be
leading edge in education in 2009?

As we begin to update our plan for the 2009-2010 school year, I find myself wondering about something I perceive to be extraordinarily significant. I wonder if it’s important to my staff at Benton to be a school on the leading edge of progress?

I guess in order for each individual staff member to make that decision, one would have to know what being a “leading edge school” entails in education in 2009. I can only offer a limited idea of what that looks like from our corner of the state, but I would enjoy constructing a list that encompasses insights from across the nation – maybe even across the oceans. Funny thing is, the only way I have to offer what it leading edge is in some instances is to offer what it isn’t.

First of all, I think leading edge in 2009 is a school that is enriching instructional offerings. The offerings must be grounded in standards, and I heard that Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, is offering national standards.

Secondly, I think schools must rethink what constitutes a school day, semester credits, and a school year. President Obama has been throwing around the idea for a few weeks now.
Crazy thing is, Missouri’s current process is perpetuating the value of attendance over what the attendance gains us. Our students must sit in rooms or travel room to room to hear about it when all they desire is to practice their learning. That practice along with more realistic relativity to the information being taught is critical to student learning. We must stop the preaching and reach out to the different ways. In our school – we are calling that constructivism. In science classes in our district, it’s referred to as inquiry learning. In our social studies departments, it’s called problem-based learning (PBL). It’s coming to all four core areas with heavy implications to the electives.

Thirdly (sounds funny, but it’s legitimate), we must address what it takes for a student to “graduate” from grade to grade and finally from high school. Our current system is not rewarding the learning – it continues to reward the time served. The placid practice of earning a grade is, ironically, so lacking in motivation for students. Oh sure, it works in the short term, but for resistant or struggling learners, it’s deleterious. Without question, at Benton we are finding the issue of failing grades to lack of credits indelibly paralleling our alternative referral rates.

Students are leaving us their junior and senior years to sit in front of computers to learn what they need to learn in order to pass the GRE test (as well as the national and MO constitution tests), and earn an identical diploma to one earned from our own institution. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? According to our latest data, Benton has 118 referrals so far this year compared to Lafayette’s 25 or so. Central also has less than us. I certainly think to be leading edge – practice must change. Albert Einstein said it best; “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”

Finally, and possibly most importantly, there is technology. We must embrace it. At this point in time, but the most appropriate way to consider integration is through TPACK.
I am excited to say we at Benton, we are preparing for a faculty launch. Not unlike the Space Shuttle, we might be delayed by poor weather, but we WILL launch. I think our focus will be blogging to start – since we have piloted our start with our Virtual Southside technology cohort – but all educators interested in being leading edge must hook up with Alltop (Education),
all the top blogs on education in the nation. To learn how to blog – either as a professional, in professional development or in your classroom, you will see the best of the best modeled here.

And so, Benton High School, with that said, I must ask you this. Are you ready to be leading edge? I realize it will take work, but more so, it will take your dedication. Dedication is to several things – our kids, each other, and change. We will never settle for good enough. We decided that years ago – remember our embracing good to great? This is where the rubber hits the road. Time to check your bus ticket. All aboard!


Tori Grable said...

This so mirrors a conversation Jean, Bob and I had last week as we headed to the state ACT convention in Columbia. It is time, indeed, for us to step up to the plate at Benton--perhaps as a model for all of education--and think outside the box to figure out how we make this thing work. How do we motivate students who are apathetic about school, who fail to see its purpose in their lives, who have far bigger concerns in their days than getting our assignments done? How do we reach out to the families who entrust us with those young people? How do we promote education in a community where it doesn't seem to have a great deal of value? I would argue that we must think outside of the conventional and throw out "We don't do that here" to create a plan for our school, our students and our staff.

That said, I think we're on the bus, but we're not going anywhere. I compare it to a Flintstone's era car where you put your feet down and run hard to make it move. Only a few, it seems, have our feet down and the others are waiting for--even counting on--us to get the thing going. That clearly isn't working. A next step, I believe, is to make certain that everyone on the bus is committed to moving it forward. If that's truly the case, let's expand beyond the leadership team and give everyone an active role in and the responsibility for moving Benton forward.

This begins, I think, with the SIP we will soon be building for next year. Let's get down and dirty with what really needs to be done to answer the kinds of questions you've posed and to make an educational difference in our students' lives. Let's get past the fluff, the easy-to-measure goals, the rhetoric and get down to what's really important in terms of moving this learning community. And then let's divvy up the responsibilities for that among ALL of us on the bus. That breeds ownership and commitment from all.

Whew, that's something I've been wanting to throw out there for some time. Thanks for providing the opportunity.

nashworld said...

"A next step, I believe, is to make certain that everyone on the bus is committed to moving it forward. If that's truly the case, let's expand beyond the leadership team and give everyone an active role in and the responsibility for moving Benton forward."

So tell me... do you have a vision for what this might look like? How do we "make certain" of this? Expanding beyond leadership team sounds very... democratic. That I love. However, not all things can be done in such a large, clunky format. True?

So what type of things were you speaking of expanding out to the whole group?

nashworld said...

And yes, I agree... ALL the hotshots are on ALLtop! Heh.

nashworld said...

PS- that first comment was for Tori. Odd that the comments aren't in a threaded format. I didn't realize that. So yeah- that one was for Tori the Grable.