I walked into a gathering of leaders this past Tuesday and wondered what we would accomplish together this year to make vision words real for young people.
“All learners believe in their power to embrace learning, excel, and own their future.”
We’re embarking on the next stage of our journey as a team of leaders- teachers and administrators working together outside hierarchy. It seemed appropriate to meet in the learning studio of the UVA Medical School where staff has tossed out 100 years of medical education curriculum and instruction to radically innovate a new design for learning. What better place to focus our own creativity than in a new learning space that’s defied being a lecture in a box by becoming a space for team-based learning in the round?
We K-12 educators came together to “Connect Our Dots” in the work we lead together to ensure learners receive the support they need in every learning space and from every employee. We’re all on the same team and we need each other to accomplish the hard but rewarding work of public education. We need each other to sustain optimism in the face of significant challenge. We are nothing because of our rhetoric. We are everything because of our actions. We are not schools or central office. We are strong because of all of us, not because of any one of us.
The phrase, irresistible learning, was on my mind as our team planned the 2011-12 “advance” work, a phrase borrowed from teacher leader @corriekelly who has blogged about irresistible literacy.
Irresistible learning comes from a keen focus on what we do to build positive relationships, create relevant learning work, and design attainable challenges that engage learners’ interest, curiosity, and thought. In a performance conversation last year, a principal described it well, “I want kids to continue to engage after they leave a class. They scratch their heads. They go home and they can’t stop thinking about what they’re learning. They want to do more. I don’t want them to walk out and leave their learning behind.”
This phrase irresistible learning is relevant to our own learning as well as to the young people we serve. Everyone in the round learning space we occupied last week needs to keep coming back to thinking about the dots we’re connecting, to their own plans to lead with others to make connections, and to actions they’ll take to lead our work forward. This team’s work is about what we accomplish together, rather than as individuals in isolation of each other. We can’t make those vision words real without working together, being open to new ideas that transform our thinking.
We sat at round tables together and talked a lot about the challenges of making changes in our work. A medical student spoke to our team saying that it’s only when the med students tear into their team-based learning projects that “the real learning starts.” He said, “ If you need tables, buy round ones. That’s how we see each other’s eyes when we’re working together.” Another, who grew up in an urban setting, said to me last spring, ”If medical students who are top 1%ers need this kind of learning space, technology, curriculum, and teaching to make learning relevant, why in the world would we deny the same to kids who struggle in school?’
As a result of advances in technology, we exist in a turning point in which changes in our world allow learning opportunities that have never before existed. This round room is well equipped with state of the moment technology. The medical school faculty used technology and space changes to shift pedagogy to support team-based, active learning. We have a similar opportunity in Pk-12 education but are our educators ready to make changes that create new possibilities? Are our communities?
What story will we unfold as a result of adding new technologies to the work of learners? Will we simply tell the same story we’ve always told in our classes or will we create new learning stories? Will learners tell the same stories about us or will they change their stories? How do we as leaders give our learners a reason to change the stories they tell about us? Will we embrace learning? Will we excel? Will we own our future?
I just heard the former CEO of Jaguar America say the work they did to move from last place in 1990 to first place in 1998 as the luxury car of choice in America was not about management by visible numbers, merit pay, slogans, compliance-driven hierarchies, or firing people. He said it was about driving fear from the workplace, creating a culture of ownership for quality work, engaging employees in process improvements, and building team.
The global world at our doorsteps represents a world of diverse communities and economies. Our students need us to help them be ready to be successful in that world, to be happy in that world, to be a contributor to that world. The culture we create in our schools and departments must support our work towards this. How do we as leaders lead to change culture? Does that begin with changing how we lead? How we fashion our own stories of values in a time of uncertainty? What we choose to do when the right answer isn’t on our own test of leadership?
In this decade, pedagogy, learning spaces, and learning technologies will either be shifted to create a new story of contemporary learning or we will simply continue to tell the same story. We educators- teachers and administrators- together hold the pen in our hands.
Will it be the same story of education in the box, easy to tell because we know it so well? Or, will it be a version of the moon speech story of John F. Kennedy, “we go to the moon, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.”
Which story will we choose to write?