Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What Should Students Learn?

Increasingly, schools are becoming places where students are expected to learn not only the core academics, but life skills, too. Schools are responsible for teaching morals, ethics, tolerance, anger management, cooking skills, child-rearing skills, driving skills, relationship skills, sex education, and much more. With the issue of accountability that accompanies high-stakes testing, teachers and administrators are challenged to find the actual time to accomplish it all, and all the while, the expectations keep rising. Can we do it? It is possible, but school leaders must find a way to educate society in regard to what public education is all about today, and in turn, society has to put its money where its mouth is.

If schools are expected to be real places for real learning, then we have to provide everything that our students and teachers need to get them where we want them to be. The educational role of schools should be focused on teaching students in the core subjects along with teaching them essential life skills. School leaders must realize that with the advent of the 21st century and the fact that many families have both parents in the work force, a school is often the only place where our children learn what they need to know to be productive citizens. The parents and the community at large also have to be willing to fully support schools to create places where learning takes place and success occurs on a regular basis. Alliances must be built.

Parents rely heavily upon schools, and it’s not always because they feel that schools can be trusted to teach their children everything; it’s because parents don’t have the time to do it. They are often both working, and with the divorce rate topping fifty percent in the United States, single parents are running households while holding full-time jobs. If parents aren’t at home, they can’t teach their children. Teaching it all becomes the school’s job. Each decade brings new demands on schools to meet the needs of a changing society and an expanding world economy. The role of education must constantly change depending on the needs of the society it serves.

School leaders, including teacher leaders and administrators, are integral to the growth of their teachers and their students. Their roles revolve around meeting the needs of teachers to increase student learning. If they don’t provide beneficial direct assistance, professional development, group development, curriculum development, and the means for teachers to delve into action research for student improvement, then they have failed (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2006). It is their responsibility to their respective schools to build relationships, assess need with purpose, and act (Donaldson, 2006).

What role, then, do parents play in education? The same role that community plays: they must give and do what they can, and then support, support, support. Unfortunately, many schools don’t realize that their parents aren’t as supportive as they could be because the school has failed to inform the community of its purpose. Schools must make every effort to effectively communicate with parents to encourage their involvement at every level of their children’s learning. In other words, it is the school’s responsibility to create interaction with the parents and the community. Positive relationships can be created through newsletters, school Web site information, teacher Web sites with continued homework updates, informational and Open House gatherings for parents, parent/teacher conferences, invitational school involvement, community/business members paired with teachers, parent phone calls and much more.

Particularly, business leaders in the community should be involved in the school system, but, again, it is the school’s responsibility to build these alliances. Local business owners should be encouraged to interact with school children to share their experiences and to build an interest in thinking about careers early. Local community colleges and universities can build alliances with teachers to create college opportunities for students. With some creative thinking, students can benefit from various community and business members by seeing the connection between learning and “real” life.

As an educational leader, I see the 'big picture.' I have the ability to see or make connections. I have been told that I have 'vision.' For me, as a learner, I need to be given the opportunity to find and understand the connections I know that are inherent in every learning opportunity. This was always integral to my teaching; my students needed to see the connections. I disagree with the sentiment, “Things happen for a reason.” Instead, I propose that reason can be found in everything that happens. We have to be able to find the reason. I used this ability recently when interviewing an assistant high school principal who stated that his job is ninety percent discipline and ten percent building maintenance. He expressed his regret at never having (or making) the opportunity to impact instruction more by observing teachers and classrooms. I stated that if he were to observe classrooms and interact with teachers more, he might discover those who need help with behavior management. This might lead to fewer discipline issues. Being purposeful about his presence in classrooms would surely impact student learning. He said, “I never thought of it that way.” I believe we need more 'big vision' thinkers in today’s schools.

How can we develop 'big vision' thinkers among our teachers and educational leaders? One word. Collaboration. I am a collaborator; therefore, I choose to work with people who want to work together to solve problems, think up new ideas, and take risks. I am also a believer in children and in the power of education. I love changing the lives of children for the better, and I must work with individuals who love the same. I am in my perfect work situation when my co-workers have a vision that entails changing the world through our daily work. Most importantly, we all must believe that it is possible.

Donaldson, Gordon A., Jr. (2006). Cultivating Leadership in Schools: Connecting People, Purpose, & Practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Glickman, Carl D., Gordon, Stephen P., & Ross-Gordon, Jovita M. (2006). SuperVision and Instructional Leadership: A Developmental Approach. New Jersey: Allyn & Bacon.

Maxwell, John C. (1991). The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow. Nashville: Maxwell Motivation, Inc.

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