Experience rich environments create the velcro that we need to attach learning. This is so clear as some students return from a summer full of amazing experiences ready to learn while others return starved of meaningful experiences. They are wilted, and in need of care, support and rebuilding. This second group comes to us with a virtual teflon brain, and it makes it really hard to attach new learning and concepts. We have known for a long time that those with means bolt past those without in the area of life experiences creating an experience gap that is nearly impossible to overcome. This is most evident returning from the summer months. To push back against the velcro versus teflon reality, it is essential to fill our schools with learning experiences that are rich and meaningful. It is essential to surround our students with beauty, caring adults from the community, and opportunities to explore. Let’s make this a sticky year for all kids.
This was originally posted for Edweek HERE
Going it alone in the world of education is a growing fool’s game. The isolated classroom, school, or district is rarely serving the students and community optimally in our interconnected, global economy.
This means that the concept of partnership must be central to the work of educational leaders throughout the country and around the world.
The concept of partnership is growing more complex as well. Though schools need more resources to bring a full portfolio of programs to the school district, partnerships aren’t the seeking of time, talent, and treasure of others to make an impact.
Donations are often confused with partnerships when partnerships are symbiotic in nature. Quality partnerships allow for those connecting with the school to receive from the school district as well. In quality partnerships, the students and staff are closing the loop by contributing to the partner organization with ideas, support, and energy.
Full partnerships are a cornerstone to the Learning Reimagined efforts happening at the School District of University City in Saint Louis, Missouri. Learning Reimagined is a set of principles and a related shift in mindset that is designed to recraft the learning for all students in the district. It is based on three learning pillars that must grow for all students to know the power of formal learning. These pillars are the idea that educations needs to evolve in how it humanizes, personalizes, and problematizes. Each of these pillars are then coupled with deep, meaningful learning experiences that generate engagement and joy for all. This robust philosophy is an answer to the test score chasing model of learning that has infected many districts.
Learning Reimagined is based on what research suggests as best practice, and it combines elements of effective learning that have been incubated around the country for years. It will only continue to be possible if the districts are able to surround the work with modern partners that see our students in terms of their strengths and their ability to solution make around the community. To make this happen, we are focused on four types of partnerships.
In this realm, it is first and foremost about building an entrepreneurial spirit in the students of the School District of University City. Our vision is to have students that are deeply embedded with local and regional business partners in a way that allows the partner to the see the value of the fresh eyes and ideas of students in their organization. We also want to build lasting partnerships that allow for internship while in high school, entry level positions for students wanting to move directly into the workforce, and opening doors for our students returning from college looking for careers. This is a model seen in the work of the Center for Advanced Professional
Studies as well as the focus of the internship model that the US Department of Education is looking to accelerate. This will begin in earnest for the district in the fall through the problem based learning work that is being launched in our ninth grade learning center and from pilot projects that will have students serving as marketing, graphic design, and social media experts for a number of small businesses in the community.
The arts activate all learning. This has been a part of the district DNA for fifty years, and it continues with incredible band, orchestra, and dance programs. The evolution of these programs in learning reimagined is to find entry points into these programs for all students, so that the energy of the arts and the natural joy and engagement that the arts can bring to learning can seep into other areas of learning.
Centered in Saint Louis, COCA (Center for Creative Arts) has been a partner with the School District of University City for many years. This partnership now looks for elevation as it now holds itself accountable to the pillars of Learning Reimagined. How might we use the arts expertise in the community to humanize and personalize the learning?
In addition, the concept of authentic audience in partnership also is a part of this work. The disitrict are looking for additional ways to bring community into the performance process as well as wrap more experts into the facilitation of all courses.
Higher Education Community
In the shadow of one of the best universities in the world, the School District of University City should be swimming in the higher education knowledge and wisdom of Washington University in Saint Louis. This hasn’t been the case and when the partnerships were there, they didn’t meet the robust criteria of modern partnership. In the past, the district received, and the university felt good. This reorientation to modern partnership with Washington University in Saint Louis is beginning to impact the professional learning of all educators in the district and the Institute for School Partnership is also making an impact on the STEM mindset in the district.
The language of K-12 and higher education hasn’t always been in sync for the Saint Louis region, but growing there is a growing synergy and a willingness to be at the table and listen has allow saplings to emerge. Learning Reimagined will not be successful without a university partner or partners that see the value in growing amazing citizens through a model that humanizes, personalizes, and problematizes the learning.
These partners need to see the value of bringing a student steeped in modern learning to their campus as an undergraduate because it will enrich the conversation and classroom instruction moving forward. This is a level of partnership that is exciting for our first generation college students and all of the students at University City.
Other School District Partners
Cognitive redundancy is absorbing huge amounts of time in education that could be used for innovation, communication, and restoration. School districts around the country are reinventing wheels that have been launched for decades. Eighty percent of the solutions needed in every school have already been invented, tested, and implemented. Certainly, each district needs to mold the last twenty percent, but no one has the time moving forward to start over on ideas and concepts that the research and practices already shows work.
The School District of University City is dedicated to working with allies in learning locally, regionally, and around the country. This means growing a network of connected educators that can bring ideas and resources to the table from other schools and classrooms.
The district is opening its doors to learning opportunities from Google, Microsoft, and other partners that will bring together innovative educators from around the country in conversation on its campuses.
These intentional partnerships will allow the district to move quickly to transform itself into a nimble, agile learning environment that is filled with joy and creativity for both the teachers and students. These partnerships will allow for fresh resources to enter the district, but most importantly, they will allow the beauty and strength of the students to be a known quantity for everyone in our community and beyond.
The back to school charge is always filled with incredible energy. It is a time of hope, and a belief that all is possible. It is in this renewal that amazing new truths about one of the most complex professions can emerge. Here are a few of the back to school ideas swirling around for me.
1. We are led too often by inertia, momentum and tradition. It is comfortable, and humans are comfortable by default. As the world spins so quickly with change, it is hard to see how inertia, momentum, and tradition can remain.
2. The energy and ideas of fresh eyes on an organization only lasts so long. New members of a school community have a unique opportunity to see the culture and organization with fresh eyes, and leaders need to use this resource while it lasts. It means being intentional with new staff about wanting their voice and perspective.
3. We are better together with other schools. Cognitive redundancy is swamping school. We have to believe that others have already baked 80% of any new idea or initiative. We don't need committees and meetings to figure out the 80%. Instead spend time hyperlocalizing the last 20% so that we can recapture time for different conversations.
4. Being outside continues to be an amazing learning vehicle. This means getting kids the air, light, and perspective that can only come from being outside. We aren't losing instructional time by supporting the human need for the peace and power that comes from the outside learning space.
5. There are no heroes in education. There are just amazing educators that don't look to save, but to serve each day with small moments that have big purpose. This is the key to the work, being so tuned in that you can see the specific needs of each student as you orchestrate the daily learning.
It is that time again. Back to school.
The flights are arriving, and the anticipation is building. The granddaddy of education conferences in United States, ISTE, is upon us. (I say granddaddy because of size, scope, not necessarily on impact of design.) I’m truly looking forward to it as I have for a number of years.
Every year I get to interact with some amazing people.
For me, that’s enough, but for many people, they started months ago with the negative talk about ISTE. It’s too big. It’s too corporate. It used to be so much better. It is missing X, Y, Z and more.
It is easy to pick things apart. It is easy to throw rocks. It is easy to complain. I’d encourage everyone to rise above easy and make an attempt to own the hours and days of the event to meet your needs. No one needs to be a victim of ISTE. No one needs to lose sight of what ISTE will never be.
It will never be the solution.
It will never have all of the right people.
It will never be free of sales.
It will never really be about kids first.
It will never change the minds of our state legislators.
It will never have enough minutes to have all of the conversations that we want to have.
BUT…. It will be an opportunity to interact with some amazing people, so do so, and make memories…one small moment at a time.