Get the most out of the WASB Convention

wasb_convention_header

By Barry Golden – ISN Consultant

In another week, several thousand administrators and school board members will travel to Milwaukee to attend the 95th annual WASB Convention. This conference is the premier conference for school district leaders and decision makers! It is a conference where hundreds of vendors from book companies, technology companies; companies specializing in insurance, jewelry, financial investments, gym floors, architects, bleachers, banks and numerous other vendors engage attendees to purchase various good or services. It’s an experience that nearly overwhelms me as I venture around the various venues while seeking the vendors I want to meet. I have been one of those vendors on several occasions and it was exciting to meet board members and leadership personnel and learn of their challenges in delivering a PK-12 education to students, some who will enter a society and economy that we can barely predict 10-15 years from now.

Previously the owner of a K-12 educational technology, I was amazed back in the 90’s and early 2000’s how little school boards and administrators knew about technology. A principal with whom I worked actually advised his fellow administrators not to jump into technology until it “settled down and stopped its rapid change.” While we focusing on “college and career readiness” we have seen many, many school districts literally dismantle their technical education programs, many of which were replaced by “at-risk” programs since there were few options in the trades to achieve “career readiness.”

Looking forward, we know we can’t continue “doing what we’ve always done, as it will only get us to where we’ve already been.” The legacy PK-12 system of old produced the world’s greatest scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs, business leaders and world leaders. If we look closely at most current school systems they have changed little in the past 40 years. Oh yes, we have more technology but the students in our classrooms are frequently learning more “outside” the classroom than inside. Why? Because they have choice and voice in what they want to learn on the “outside.” Our legacy system dictates what students will learn or must learn what “we” decide they need to learn to graduate and yet most educators will agree we are NOT properly preparing students for the future. Why? Because we need to develop two or more models of K-12 education. Our current system should continue as is since it is still successful for about 50% of our students. A second model should allow students more experiential or hands-on learning that we refer to as “project-based learning” or PBL. It is actually becoming quite popular in the K-12 sector however, I see most school districts doing what we’ve usually done, trying to squeeze PBL into our existing system and it’s rigid schedules; use of staff at specific times during the day for specific content courses will squelch most attempts at implementing PBL but many districts do so anyway. And who is at fault when they fail? It must be the model or the teachers! PBL learning models must be available for students who learn best through such an approach. This might include science, STEM, welding, community/collaborative learning, internships, engineering etc. We are ill preparing students for the futures they will eventually face and most of us don’t recognize it.

As our state’s educational leaders and administrators move to Milwaukee for three days of professional development, I would like to suggest a few priorities as you browse the exhibit area and the sessions you consider attending:

  1. Sessions on project/inquiry based learning or experiential learning
  2. Teacher shared leadership models in school buildings
  3. STEM sessions using experiential learning
  4. Sessions on career and technical education training, again with a hands-on emphasis
  5. Sessions on building positive school culture
  6. Place-based learning that incorporates the community in student learning

In closing, I’ve been involved in tsunamis of “school reform” efforts over the past 40 years and I think most would agree, few have really taken root and transformed a several grade level building let alone a medium to large school district. One last suggestion to learn more about creating “innovative schools,” visit the Innovative Schools Network booth in the exhibitor area and learn how to transform education, “one school at a time.”

The ISN is Thankful For Brave School Leadership

By: Barry Golden – ISN Consultant

As we approach Thanksgiving Day, ISN staff and several members of our Board of Directors have been reflecting on our service and impact on education in Wisconsin since our inception nearly four years ago.

We all concurred that innovation must continue to be our focus and passion.  In that spirit, we asked ourselves,

“what is the ISN thankful for in this season of gratitude?

There are a lot of innovations occurring in some 4K-12 classrooms and school buildings in Wisconsin, but we are still waiting for the inspired wave of risk taking leaders to establish zones of innovation within school districts across the state and the country to establish schools that “Do Different.”  There are some great examples of such schools and we want to express our appreciation and to honor those educators who are truly bending the curve of innovation by challenging the “one size fits all” mindset that seems to have hijacked our educational system.

We wish to honor and pay tribute to those leaders, staff, school boards and community members who have found a way to foster and empower teachers to assume a more active role in how we educate students differently; not only for students with differences, but with structures that recognize and educate students based on their strengths and interests versus trying to fix student weaknesses so they can fit a “proficient or advanced” factory model where individual differences are seen as being abnormal.

So, to those individuals who are doing education differently, be they board members, administrators, teaching staff or community groups, we thank you for your creativity and belief that guiding student learning fosters and supports curiosity which is what drives all humans to be different.

What is Your Path to Educational Innovation?

by Barry Golden, ISN Consultant

ISN Innovation Zone

What is Your Path to Innovation? Charter Schools or Zones of Innovation?  

Act 55, passed by the Wisconsin legislature and signed by the Governor in July 2015, created a new process for outside “authorizers” to establish “independent” charter schools across the state of Wisconsin. In the past, local school districts, with the exception of Milwaukee and Racine, were the only entities allowed to establish a charter school within a school district.

In Act 55, there are 9 entities that can now authorize charter schools in regions across the state. The following chart identifies the authorizing agencies and the regions of Wisconsin for which they can authorize a charter school.

 

Charter Authorizer

*New

School Location Pupil Residency Number of Charter Schools
City of Milwaukee (2r) Statewide Statewide Unlimited
UW-Milwaukee (2r) Statewide Statewide Unlimited
UW-Parkside (2r) Statewide Statewide Unlimited
MATC (2r) Statewide Statewide Unlimited
*Gateway Technical College (2r) Racine, Kenosha, Walworth (only high school grades and provides curriculum focused on STEM or occupational education and training) Racine, Kenosha, Walworth, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Jefferson, Rock Unlimited
*Waukesha County Executive (2r) Waukesha County Statewide Unlimited
*College of Menominee Nation (2r) Statewide Statewide No more than 6 schools between these two authorizers
*Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwa Community College (2r) Statewide Statewide
*Office of Educational Opportunity (UW System) (2x) In districts with over 25,000 pupils Statewide Unlimited

 Independent authorizers may not establish a virtual charter school.

A summary of the new charter school law, 118.40 can be found at the following web site: http://goo.gl/wQcSMl. Now local school districts should be(?) asking “can this law potentially affect our school district? “ This simple answer is “yes!” In the interest of establishing competition in 4K-12 education throughout Wisconsin, there are now 9 agencies that can authorize charter schools in addition to your local school district.

Most of the districts the ISN is working with either have their own charter schools or are investigating how they can establish an “innovation zone” within their district that will not only foster and establish innovative schools, but will prevent other authorizers from establishing charter schools outside of local control.

Several local districts are collaborating with the ISN to investigate how to establish an innovation zone that has the freedom to innovate within the existing framework of their local school district while offering optional learning models to better meet the varying needs and interests of students and the local community. Essentially this involves establishing schools or programs where students work and learn differently. Most of the options being created center around some variation of “project based or problem based learning”. These practices are well established in Wisconsin where many schools are already operating either a charter school or project based learning within a quasi-independent innovation zone. Such a school provides significant student autonomy and fosters strong leadership, curiosity, independent learning and critical thinking, and social skills.

The ISN is on the cutting edge of creating these types of options within school districts. If you have concerns that someone might establish an independent charter school in your district, we welcome the opportunity to work with any district that is serious about establishing an “Innovation Zone” or their own charter school.

Next week, I will further discuss the financial impact of independent charters being established in your district. I’ll also discuss how such innovation zones can be established that would achieve levels of innovation while still maintaining the existing model.

Learn more about Innovation Zones: Innovation Zones Explained

____________________________________________________________________________

UPDATE 6-3-16

Follow-up resources from Dan Butler with the National Charter School Resource Center

Case Study: Indianapolis Mayor’s Office

Case Study: AppleTree

 

 

Guest Blogger: Matthew Scott

Matthew Scott

My name is Matthew Scott. I’m a teacher and writer from the UK. I currently live in the US and decided to explore some of the innovative work taking place here in education. This was mainly done in the hope of being able to take a few ideas home with me when I go back to Britain. Then I got carried away. This blog will chart that journey.

One: The Storm Before The Calm

I’d never driven through a tornado before. It was a Wednesday morning and I was on my way to Monona, Wisconsin, a town just over an hour west of where I live. My destination was the Project Based Learning Un-Conference organized by WISN and Project Foundry. It was a gathering of educators with varying degrees of expertise in the field of PBL. I’d been in touch via email with Sarah from WISN who had been extremely positive and helpful, but I was still nervous. You see, I’ve been in the US for a couple of years and (apart from volunteer work at a downtown Milwaukee city literacy center) haven’t set foot in a classroom for a while. My wife assured me I’d be fine – teaching was like riding a bike. Yes, I thought. Or driving a car. On the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Through a tornado…

Okay, perhaps this is a little over-dramatic. There was no twister that morning but the warnings were out and judging by the number of cars with hazards lining the highway or hiding under bridges, the likelihood of one touching down wasn’t altogether unreasonable. And my nervousness was extremely real. Apart from a vague outline, I had no real idea about PBL. It did actually feel a little like the first day at high school again.

I needn’t have worried. The Un-Conference was hosted by the wonderful people of MG21 Liberal Arts Charter School and as I pulled into the parking lot I was relieved to see the WISN and Project Foundry signage pointing me in the right direction (again, read the symbolism there as far as cliché will allow). After signing in, I headed into a large computer lab for the welcome speeches and breakdown of the sessions for the next few days. The room was already buzzing with conversation and it was clear that a lot of people knew each other or had come as part of teams. At that time I was still absolutely convinced I was the most clueless person there. Everyone had laptops – really nice ones. I had a legal pad and two pens in case one ran out of ink. But despite the diverse range of experience and experiences in the room, it was clear that this conference was designed with the goal of exploration in mind, and what’s the good of exploring if you already know exactly where you are going?

My own meandering began with a session on Advisory. It was run by the Valley New School from Appleton, WI and after circling-up for a few ice-breaking games, people began to explain why they were there and what they hoped to take out of the session. I will admit now that although I was taking in a great deal of information much of it swirled about like the weather on the way in that morning – the odd tree branch might flash by in the wind, something recognizable, but nothing for me to grab hold of with any confidence. This had nothing to do with the excellently led session and more that so much of the terminology and language – the basic jargon of US education – was so alien to me. Imagine a US educator visiting a similar event in Britain and having to work out what Key Stages, or Pupil Premium, or even GCSE meant before they’d even had a chance to think about the topic being discussed? Luckily, for one activity, I found myself partnered with Steven Rippe from WISN and, as I’m sure any of you who have spent any period of time in Steven’s company will attest, things suddenly got a whole lot cooler.

Having worked out what I was actually doing there, it was Steven who came up with what this whole blog is going to be about: It’s a project. ‘If your aim is to find out as much as you can about PBL, treat it as a project’ – that was his suggestion. Suddenly all the anxiety about not knowing anything became a driving force: I could just learn. Need-to-knows, making real-world connections, linking back to standards: all of this went from being the content of the learning to the actual process. I was going to do a project on finding out as much as I could about PBL and the product, tentatively, would be this blog.

So, this is the first post: an introduction. Forgive me for not going into detail about the rest of the terrific Un-Conference: the sessions on building a culture for PBL in a traditional school environment; how to integrate PBL into core subjects; examples from educators actually doing PBL in teacher-led settings, student-led settings and everything else in between; PLPs; assessment; Project Foundry; and the inspirational key note address from Joe Bower – no, all of these matters and more will, I’m sure, be discussed in more detail in later posts.

Nor am I going to write too much just now about the quick realization that although the jargon might be slightly different, this infamous shared language, which is often ironically said to separate us on either side of the Atlantic, actually speaks of exactly the same concerns, challenges and, most importantly, passion I hear when talking to teachers back home. Sometimes it’s buried deep beneath warranted frustrations but it’s still there.

For now I’m just saying hello.

Before I go though, I should mention that a week after the UnConference, I drove to the WISN office in Madison to discuss this whole adventure. The weather that day? Glorious sunshine.

Supporting Innovative Schools in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Innovative Schools Network Blog Post June 10 2014

The staff and board of the Wisconsin Innovative Schools Network is sorry to learn about the dissolution of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association. Since 2001, the WCSA has been an important voice in the debate about the future of education in Wisconsin, and for charter schools in particular. We are thankful for the incredible educators who worked tirelessly to improve charter schools in Wisconsin throughout the existence of WCSA.

While we will miss our colleagues at the Association, we would like to note that their dissolution leaves a gap—but not a vacuum—in the ongoing discussion of the roles and educational opportunities that charter schools offer Wisconsin citizens. Since 2011, the Wisconsin Innovative Schools Network has offered forums, workshops, resources, and guidance to innovative schools, including public charter schools around the state. Now comprised of nearly 150 partner schools, our mission is to further educational innovation and collaboration between charter and other public schools.

WISN welcomes educators utilizing a wide variety of instructional approaches and organizations to partner with us in exploring and building high quality educational opportunities for all students through our grassroots network of schools. More information about the Network, including a listing and schedule of summer workshops and trainings, can be found at www.InnovativeSchoolsNetwork.com

For more information, please contact Dr. Heather Terrill Stotts, Executive Director, at Heather@InnovativeSchoolsNetwork.com or (608) 509-8387.

Read the WCSA press release in the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

 

 

2014 WISN Conference on Innovation – What’s Your Plan?

On behalf of the Wisconsin Innovative Schools Network, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am about our upcoming Conference on Innovation. If you’re reading this, I sure hope you’ll be there, too, since beginning on March 26, you’ll join nearly 500 educators who will gather for three days of networking, problem solving, and collaboration with colleagues from all across the state—and with some of the most inspiring thought leaders in education today. Personally, I can’t wait to hear Alfie Kohn talk about high stakes testing and the discussion I KNOW will ensue!

As I’ve learned throughout my career, conferences can be overwhelming with opportunities and possibilities. Want to get the most of this conference? Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful:

Begin with (realistic) goals. Before you get to the conference, ask yourself: What goals can I realistically attend to during this short time? If I could only do three things what would they be? How can you keep those goals fresh in your mind while staying open to the unexpected?

Plan ahead for how you will take your learning home. If you’re attending the conference with a team, you’re in the best position to strategize about how to implement your learning. But even on your own, identify specific actions you’ll take when you leave the conference. How will you share new knowledge with others? How will you continue your learning and collaborative efforts?

Remember, experts are everywhere. Your most significant insights may come from conversation with someone at your lunch table or from the person sitting next to you who’s gone through the a similar challenge and found a great solution. Don’t be shy! Introduce yourself. Ask people for e-mail addresses and put them in a safe place so you really can stay in touch.

Find time to reflect every day. Allow yourself the time and space to review what you’ve heard. Find a reflection partner if discussion helps you process new information. Take advantage of social media to put a new idea out into the world. Perhaps take a brief moment to journal after sessions to track first impressions and identify questions.

Schedule a conference follow up. Whether you set a Blue Jeans Network or Skype date with a new peer or volunteer to present to your local school board, you’ll reinforce your learning and find new ways to apply your knowledge with intentional follow up that extends beyond your first couple of weeks back at home.

We’ve designed incredible learning experiences led by some of the best leaders in education. Our great hope is that you’ll discover new ways of thinking about your school or your own teaching practice and through modeling and coaching build capacity in others. I’m looking forward to welcoming all returning attendees from last year’s inaugural conference—and hope to see many new faces, too. Remember: Don’t be shy. Please introduce yourself as the leader that you are!

WISN will tweet throughout the conference and invites you to do the same. Follow the conference and attendees as they share their learning with #WISN2014 or at our official Twitter page. Don’t forget to check out the conference app for more up to the minute info.  Just go to eventmobi.com/wisn2014 on any device.

Leaves are falling and high-stakes testing is rising.

Our family made the decision recently to have our 3rd and 7th grade children opted-out of the WKCE testing that started this week in their district.  I have, for years, as a teacher and principal, felt deeply that these tests do little to inform our instruction yet the time taken to administer them is overwhelming.  The question of standardized testing is everywhere in the news. Articles about massive testing have become a regular occurrence in the media and organizations like United Opt-Out National are taking this issue to a whole new level.

There are many pros and cons on this issue. Within the last week or so, parents from my daughter’s elementary school have been debating the issue over an email listserv. A parent from the school, Brian Lavendel, recently shared his thoughts about this topic after writing his own opt-out letter for his daughter. Here is an excerpt from his post:

You simply can’t tell much about what a person can do or how they will perform either in high school or college by administering multiple-choice tests. Nor have I seen good evidence that standardized tests tell you what a child needs in the classroom. (What you can do is predict who will do well on the tests–those whose experiences fall most within the cultural norms—i.e. white, middle class–and those who have learned how to take tests.)

 Some say you need standardized tests so that we can compare how kids from Wisconsin are doing with kids from Kansas or from Korea. But I wonder about the usefulness of measurements that can be made so simple that they can compare across broad swaths of humanity. I can’t think of a metric that could be that broad and still be useful.

Add to that the fact that these tests take precious time from classroom instruction. Is that really what we want teachers and students to be focusing on? I don’t. I think in part where I am coming from is that I have much more confidence in our daughter’s teacher to teach and assess my daughter than any standardized test.

It is difficult to know the impact of such testing on our children. A 2010 College of William & Mary study found Americans’ scores on the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking have been dropping since 1990, and researcher Kyung-Hee Kim lays part of the blame on the increase in standardized testing: “If we neglect creative students in school because of the structure and the testing movement… then they become underachievers.”  Looking around the globe, Finland topped the international education (PISA) rankings from 2001-2008, yet has “no external standardized tests used to rank students or schools,” according to Stanford University researchers Linda Darling-Hammond and Laura McCloskey.  Success has been achieved using “assessments that encourage students to be active learners who can find, analyze, and use information to solve problems in novel situations.”

I believe that there are many ways of assessing students’ learning which don’t involve the time and energy being spent on standardized tests that tell us very little about our children’s capacities in life. I welcome your comments.

 

Dr. Heather Terrill Stotts, Executive Director

 

Dr. Brian Lavendel studied standardized writing assessment for his PhD, served on the National Council of Teachers of English Testing Committee and the Conference on College Composition and Communication Assessment committee on this topic, and was brought in to consult with ACT on their assessments. Through this work, he concluded that large-scale metrics are inappropriate and invalid for measuring the type of higher-order learning we really want our kids to be experiencing in today’s classrooms. 

Creating KTEC: Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum

Creating KTEC: Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum

The mission of Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum (KTEC), a preschool – eighth grade charter school that engages all students in an innovative learning environment, is to prepare students through academic excellence by the use of 21st Century skills and technology integration. Students at KTEC are participants and collaborators in engaging lessons that integrate technology into all curriculum areas to ensure learning and higher order thinking skills.

The Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum (KTEC) serves the needs of students in preschool through eighth grade.  KTEC opened with 325 students in the fall of 2007 and now is at capacity with 471 students and over 300 on a waiting list.

We all know that technology has revolutionized how people around the world work, play, and communicate.  Studies show that the meaningful integration of technology into the curriculum can enhance student learning.  Integrating technology in the curriculum also helps students improve the skills that are necessary to succeed in a future dominated by technology.

The IES (Institute of Education Sciences) Practice Guide, published by the U.S. Department of Education, presents evidence-based advice to practitioners working to encourage girls in mathematics and science. The Guide provides five recommendations for encouraging girls in mathematics and science, including the level of evidence to support each recommendation and guidance for carrying out each recommendation. These recommendations include the following:

  1. Teachers should explicitly teach students that academic abilities are expandable and improvable in order to enhance girls’ beliefs about their abilities.
  2. Teachers should provide students with prescriptive, informational feedback regarding their performance.
  3. Teachers should expose girls to female role models who have achieved in math or science in order to promote positive beliefs regarding women’s abilities in math and science.
  4. Teachers can foster girls’ long-term interest in math and science by choosing activities connecting math and science activities to careers in ways that do not reinforce existing gender stereotypes and choosing activities that spark initial curiosity about math and science content.
  5. Teachers should provide opportunities for students to engage in spatial skills training.

KTEC is headed in the right direction, utilizing the IES recommendations for the future of their students. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, in the next five years, STEM jobs are projected to grow twice as quickly as jobs in other fields. While all jobs are expected to grow by 10%, STEM jobs are expected to increase by 21%. Similarly, 80% of jobs in the next decade will require technical skills. The US Department of Labor claims that out of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected to 2014, fifteen of them require significant mathematics or science preparation. The U.S. will have over one million job openings in STEM-related fields by 2018; yet, according to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, only 16% of U.S. bachelor’s degrees will specialize in STEM. As a nation, we are not graduating nearly enough STEM majors to supply the demand. To put these numbers into perspective, of the 3.8 million 9th graders in the US, only 233,000 end up choosing a STEM degree in college (National Center for Education Statistics).

One of the major tenets of KTEC is that staff members need to have training that fits the school’s mission as well as their own professional needs and interests. Dr. Angela Andersson, Principal of KTEC, is a leader who believes in shared governance and empowering staff members and parents to take the necessary steps to continue forward progress. As an example, staff members Michelle Zazula and Sarah McMillian have had ongoing national training in STEM practices and Project Lead the Way and are now training not only staff members in their own building but educators across the state and nation.  Scott Hodges has also been trained in myriad STEM approaches as well as Lego Robotics and uses his expertise to offer training across the nation as well.

In partnership with the Wisconsin Innovative Schools Network, KTEC staff have been sharing their practices with educators across the state and continue to do so with planned visitations and collaboration days throughout the 2013-14 school year. You can find out more by visiting InnovativeSchoolsNetwork.com or KTEC.kusd.edu.

Welcome to the 2013-14 School Year with WISN

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction announced the recipients of charter school grants to support the opening of 19 new charter schools for the 2013-14 school year.  These new schools are among those included in a new round of federally funded charter school grants for the state totaling $12.8 million. WISN will be partnering with almost all of those grantees.  We look forward to the experience and enthusiasm they will bring to the WISN, a new and growing network that works best with educators willing to engage in a give and take of ideas, seeking and sharing at the same time.

Collaboration is at the heart of WISN’s success because schools in general, and charter schools in particular, face many challenges as they operate in a public environment that is often uninformed or sometimes hostile. We believe committed educators are key to changing this environment, and that by working together we can realize the innovation and school improvements we dream of for our students.

WISN is an organization built on these dreams, but it is also built with a deep understanding of the day-to-day needs of educators like you. Our team knows what it takes to implement technology, examine pedagogy, build community, deal with budgeting, planning, and governance—and a host of other subjects crucial for successful charter schools. This is perhaps our greatest value: To offer expertise, consultation, and services on topics such as these, while we expand our own pool of experts from our partners.

To help them choose the services right for their schools, we’re delighted to present our brand new online Marketplace where partners will be able to browse and “shop” for WISN events, workshops, etc. Partners will gather the decision-makers for their school, explore the Marketplace together, and create their WISN School Profile and Service Agreement by following the instructions in the Marketplace.

You can join with us by heading to our online Marketplace to register for WISN workshops, online sessions, visitation days, or just browse our website to learn about other partner schools. Above all, we are a network of resources. If we don’t know the answer to your question, we can point you to someone who does. We’re confident that partnering with the network will make your school stronger, and we are also confident that other schools will be stronger for your contributions.

Welcome to an exciting upcoming school year. We look forward to working with you.

Dr. Heather Terrill Stotts, Executive Director

The 5 Things You Need to Make Your School Great

This was the first weekend in a very long time that we’ve had sunshine and warmth. Springtime in Wisconsin (albeit very late this year) always brings about a promise of what we know will follow. The ‘greening’ of everything around us and the growth pushing through the ground are reminders that the seasons cycle, ultimately, and with the exception of taking better care of our environment, there is little we have to do with this cycle.

To me, the analogy to students receiving a public education is obvious. No matter what happens, children arrive at the threshold of our schools on or around September 1 every year and leave us again sometime in June. We have no control over the students that are sent to us. They arrive and we teach them. Like flowers in the spring, we nurture their growth and watch them go through changes throughout their years with us. It is our hope that when they leave the K-12 system, they will become productive, well-educated, happy members of society. Yet, are we really making any change to the system which they go through? Are the students of today getting a radically different education than generations gone by?

I contend that we know what is good in schools. We have the knowledge that what makes schools great is simple: (1) education built on experiential, developmentally appropriate practices; (2) deep and meaningful parental and community involvement; (3) engaged highly-trained educational professionals who are given time to meaningfully collaborate and are passionate about their roles in the school while receiving ongoing training in effective practices; (4) a strong school leader; (5) enough funding to be able to ensure the first four items listed. And yet, we continue to try to find quick fixes because we don’t implement one through five above.

My daughter, Celeste, is eight years old. Her classroom is a 2nd/3rd grade multi-age and her teacher is wonderful. Energetic, positive, and a good communicator. Celeste is the last of my four children to have gone through this school district. We have seen NCLB come and go (almost), Assertive Discipline, basal reading series, multi-age and single grade classes, PBIS including rewards and punishments, the WI Model Academic Standards and now the Common Core State Standards, and the list goes on. Just recently I found out that the district is implementing Mondo: a reading series that they hope will ‘fix’ what’s wrong with literacy instruction and Celeste’s school is doing away with multi-age classrooms because it’s “too hard to meet the CCSS if you are teaching more than one grade”. The cycle seems to never end. Does this sound like your school or district? Probably so. I see this everywhere.

While there is nothing wrong with the CCSS or Mondo, the problem is that their implementation detracts from a focus on what matters most – a deep consideration of how we teach. Experiential learning in Celeste’s school is almost nonexistent. If the students go on a field trip it must be with the entire grade and no more than once a month. The trip has to have a direct tie to the CCSS for that grade level or they can’t go. We’ve seen educational trends and approaches come and go. We all roll our eyes as a new focus or system is implemented. We know that in a few years there will be something new. The problem is that these new systems rarely are a step forward in what counts. Too often we ignore the essentials that are found in our most innovative schools and superimpose a structure that disallows what is most important.

We know what’s wrong, and I believe we know what works. It’s up to all of us who care about education to ask for, advocate for, and ultimately demand that schools move forward to the essentials: experiential education, collaborative practice, focus on individuals, and encouraging students to explore how they learn, so that they’ll keep learning long after they’ve left our schools.

We nourish these flowers, and it’s a cliche to say we’re sowing seeds of the future. But just as we know a lot about how plants grow, we know enough about how children learn to proceed with a certain confidence in our fundamental approach, and not be fooled by the topdressing of the latest educational trend.

If you are interested in really moving forward, please consider partnering with the WISN. We look forward to the seasons with you.

Heather Terrill Stotts, Executive Director
Email Me