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:
- Sessions on project/inquiry based learning or experiential learning
- Teacher shared leadership models in school buildings
- STEM sessions using experiential learning
- Sessions on career and technical education training, again with a hands-on emphasis
- Sessions on building positive school culture
- 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.”