In a time of greater compliance and budget shortfalls, it is becoming harder and harder to see the possible levers for true disruptive change to the system that we call education. Without money and without space to make change, it is growing more difficult for leaders to find the pivot points in an organization that will shift the conversations and momentum. There do appear to be three big levers left for courageous educators to use in an attempt to make the changes that kids deserve.
The first lever is schedule. I've never seen an innovative school with a traditional schedule. Sure the school may have innovation bright spots or examples of modern excellence, but the overall culture remains mired in the past without hope for a true transformational solution for all students. The schedule as we know it is the biggest constrictor on innovation in education. We have to think bigger to broaden the definition of how learning is achieved. This means that virtual, competency-based, and blended learning all have to be on the table. We have to break the cycle of band, foreign language, and athletics dictating the opportunity for all students to be college and career ready.
The second lever is grading. Rarely does a learning culture have the complex conversations needed to transform grading policies and practices. We can no longer continue to allow our students to become point collectors that play school well. Early on we place too many grades on formative assignments and build a culture that doesn't value feedback. Great schools are shifting grades to be more a narrative approach that includes portfolios, capstone projects, and larger authentic assessments. It takes no real money to make these changes. It just takes the courage to build a coalition and communicate the importance of this change until students, parents, board, and community see that grades are eating our system.
The final lever that schools can pull is around learning space design. The visual images of our schools, whether it is desk rows or interactive white boards, are making it almost impossible for the new learning narrative to stick. We have to change the way that schools look on the inside, so that people on the outside recognize that the way that they learned isn't close to being good enough for this generation of learners. It takes learning space changes that demonstrate deep collaboration and provide places to create, make, and design. We need classrooms that honor brain based learning, and we need spaces that recognize that we have a wide variety of learners that need different things on different days, as well as the importance of the learning habitat on the learning habits of all kids.
These levers can be changed in any system, no matter the compliance structure or the budget, but they take a talented leader that truly is ready to attack the difficult legacies inhibit the schools that we envision.