Monday, December 29, 2014

High Schools Need True Community And Happy Students

     Lately I have been asking school leaders, staff members and education aficionados what I consider to be a universal question now for all high schools:
    Since any or all high school students could choose to leave your school tomorrow for on-line or independent study programs, what are you doing to keep them coming to your school today?
     High school students have more choices than ever before and rightly so.  They can choose charter programs, independent study, on-line schools, blended programs and more. So again, with all of these choices, are our schools thinking how to keep them coming to their schools today?
     This is a somewhat new or even foreign idea to many educators.  Historically, students, primarily from our neighborhoods or attendance boundaries, just showed up and made up the enrollment or student body. More recently, with more choice type situations being created, we might have seen situations where students are transferring from one school to another.
     Either way, educators have not been in the mindset of competing for students. Indeed, most of us have not connected our positions or jobs with the numbers of students enrolling in our classes, programs or schools. If we taught electives, we might have experienced the practice of recruiting enough students in order to make a class actually exist or not. However, we have not approached students as customers, but rather as passive attendees.
   First we need to accept that students now have choices with presumably more on the way. Comprehensive high schools have a strong foundation of tradition. But with each passing year, that will mean less and less to students who are struggling, disconnected, disengaged and dissatisfied. They will continue to gradually opt for other options and more will follow as more options are developed. 
     So, for those whose jobs are connected to any comprehensive public high school, they will have to consider a couple of things:

1)                    Our students have choices and we will want to make sure that they realize that their existing school, or school that they are expected to attend in the traditional sense, is a good one for them.
2)            Our jobs depend on enrollment.  If we lose students, for any of the above reasons, someone’s job is connected and will go away. 
3)            Since our students have options, they need to be valued as customers who have buying power and will desire a unique, powerful and positive educational experience from their high school program.

     Once we make this leap in our thinking, then we can begin to examine our programs. This includes our school culture, unique programs and offerings, our instructional practices and more.
     We need to develop and enhance any of the reasons or rationales here.  We need to think of our schools as unique communities. It seems that it will be community that will keep students coming. And a lack thereof will send them away. 
     In other words, what can your school community offer them that they will not be able to experience or replicate on their own on-line or independent study?  Here are some ideas:

1)    Students need to have access to professional gear, tools and resources.  They have Internet access and other tech resources often at home or elsewhere.  But they probably won’t have access to 3-D printers, recording studios, multiple types of media/music production and editing software/devices, commercial kitchens, fitness centers, performance spaces, hand tools, servers, recreational equipment, design centers, makers’ labs, robotics, studio space, ropes courses, gardens, greenhouses, solar farms, etc.  You get the idea.  Students need professional environments with the best technology and resources.

2)    Positive School Culture and Powerful Peer Relationships.  As everyone knows, we are social creatures.  And high schoolers are social junkies.  Sure they can find a social life on-line or in their community, but their most powerful and impactful one can still be at school.  However, it needs to be supportive, friendly, safe and available to all.  Schools will have to redesign or recreate their systems and practices in order to create school cultures where all students feel safe and part of the school.  This means valuing their opinions and individual learning paths, but also focusing on an environment that is truly accepting, positive, friendly, participatory, collaborative and accessible for all. 

3)    Powerful Support Systems.  I don’t want to use the cliché about the village, but you know it’s true.  Students can enjoy a high level or mastery and career readiness if they have access to and programs for mentoring, community partners, project leaders, advisors, coaches and more.  Each student needs positive, long-term relationships with adult mentors on and off campus that are invested in their long-term success through project and performance advising.

4)    Performance Opportunities.  Every student needs a stage or multiple stages in order to share their talents, interests and work.  Traditionally, things like athletics and performing arts have been afforded these opportunities.  First, these programs need to keep evolving to create more choices and opportunities for all students.  Can schools offer more ways for more students to be involved in athletics and performing arts beyond the traditional program? Additionally, and maybe even more importantly, schools need to create public venues – both FTF and digitally – for all students to show and share their individual passions and pursuits. These include, but are not limited to the following: media, art, makers’ programs, robotics, engineering, rock music, song recording/production, writing/publishing/blogging, presentations, entrepreneurship and more.

            No offense regarding the common discourse at schools, but much of it is dominated by continuous work on better assessments, policies and the like.  School leaders and staffs will have to re-examine what their focus is.  It seems safe to say that new assessments and new policies, as a couple of examples, will not address the larger issue of whether students see their comprehensive high school as the best choice for them.  Will our schools work to create more satisfied and successful customers or continue to chase them away?  That is today’s big money question. 

(images courtesy of Minarets High School, Foter) 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The 8 P's Of Education

     I believe in and have used the Four C’s as foundational elements for much of my professional work for years. I love that some educators have added their versions of a fifth or sixth C as well. Whether it’s four, five or six C’s, they are relevant and important. My intent here with the 8 P’s is not to be cute or coy.  Rather, it is to pick up where the Four C’s leave off and work towards more specificity and application. So, here we go with the 8 P’s of education:

If educational success is going to be based on in-depth thinking, producing quality work and having an impact on one’s career opportunities, we need to focus on students’ passions. Passion is somewhat innate, as well as sometimes hard to identify or apply to all educational environments. But that’s why we need to make it a focus. If we read about, write about, speak about and interact with information and experiences related to our passion(s), there is great likelihood for individual buy-in, ownership and engagement. It’s not as important what we read, write and speak about, but rather that we do it at high levels and see skill-based impact. Our students’ long-term success and self-actualization will be directly based on how we challenge them and facilitate for them the opportunities to tap into their passions and then apply them to their working lives. There are the educational critics who are saying that passion is being over-emphasized. However, our inner desire to pursuit our life’s work is something that all students and adults alike will have to continue to tap into and re-discover their entire lives in order to guide their daily direction. We’re not training for jobs, but for professional lives right?

Most educational and career experts agree that collaboration is a skill that is more important than ever in the 21st century professional environments. But in addition to partnering with one’s peers, students need to experience partnerships at all levels. All students need school-based and community-based mentors. All students need experience working on things that have larger implications and impact beyond their school environments. This personalized and necessary experiences will come from their collaboration and partnering with non-profit organizations, local businesses, corporations and government agencies. We have known for years that students benefit greatly from being on teams, performance groups and student organizations. This is good, but we need to take it to the next level for all students. All students need community-based experiences related to their interests and skill areas where they can see true collaboration come to life with mentors and leaders in a variety of professional arenas. Partners and partnerships need to include all: peers, teachers, administrators, professionals, community leaders and any PLN partners.

We are hearing this word a lot and for many good reasons. Truly high levels of learning and mastery come from personal investment and relevance.  These come from ownership.  And ownership comes from passion and purpose.  The more we can provide students voice and choice – personalization if you will – the more they will reach true mastery. Educators can build choice and options into every educational endeavor and we need to do so. Additionally, we need to expand our definitions of what is ‘academic’ or ‘educational’. There is not a question, topic or individual interest area that cannot be investigated, researched, developed, pursued and expanded upon – but we need to let go our teacher-driven interests and embrace those of our students.  This will take time, as our students have not been trained this way. They will need to learn that their own areas of interest are the most relevant.

There may not be a performance task for real world assessment more important for our students to master than that of the presentation. Most interviews are now essentially presentations. The ability to synthesize information, prepare it in a visual manner and then deliver effectively to audience will be something that all young professionals benefit from regardless of any industry or career sector.  If they can sell their ideas along with themselves, they will always have professional opportunities. This is the 21st century version of public speaking.  Professional Presentation Skills, or lack thereof, may be one of the most common professional gaps or divisions for many years to come.  Presenting is teaching and teaching is the highest form of demonstrating learning. All of our students need to extend themselves in becoming experts of select content and ideas and then deliver that publicly and effectively to various audiences.  Schools will have to watch a lot of TED videos among others.

Problem Solving
This is not just for math class, but math will be a great place to start.  This is not the traditional version of solving problems.  Rather, this is about students having more open-ended projects, challenges and tasks that require them to go through several iterations in order to see improvement. Like many have written before, there will be opportunities to practice, fail and improve.  We can’t give them the answers to complex situations that require their critical thinking.  We can provide the time, the trust, the support, the technology, the networks and much more.  But they need to go through the process of experimenting and taking risks in order to advance through a process.  This is one of the most foundational life and professional skills that they will need.  And they have to practice this skill repeatedly.

If we want our students to produce high-level work, we need to create professional learning environments for all of them.  This includes everything from their classrooms, equipment, resources and collaborators.  Everything our students pursue going forward needs to have a professional connection to the real world.  If tools and resources are used in industry to produce similar or related work, then we need to do the same in school.  No longer can we have watered-down education versions.  Whatever course or activity we offer to students, we need to make sure we are teaching them with the most current technology and resources. Think media, science, writing, designing, constructing, coding and so much more.  Then think about having our students having the same access as the pros do. Additionally, this applies to the collaborators.  Our students need to connect to mentors and practitioners in their professional interest areas. This is whom they need to present to, get feedback from, network with and be mentored by to say the least. Finally, our school facilities need to look like 21st century workspaces vs. 20th century one-room schoolhouses.  Costs and efforts here can be considerable.  But it’s what has to be done.

This is something that is now paramount in the pedagogy of the 21st century.  Since school began, we primarily did our work individually and most importantly for the teacher alone. Sure, there were exceptions such as performing arts, sports and a few others. But our academic work was done in isolation and our product was delivered to the teacher. The tide has turned and student work now needs to be public. When students collaborate digitally and otherwise with peers, mentors, public partners, etc, there work, even before the final product, is public.  When they present their final products or projects to peers, staff, parents and community members, it is public. When they publish on-line, share on social media, enter a contest or partner with community-based entities, there work is public. They get feedback from minute one, have an audience throughout and see a larger purpose in all that they do. By the way, this goes for teachers now as well as students. Call it transparent or what you want. Things that are public have legs and meaning. Embrace it and optimize it.

I think we can all agree that writing, and writing effectively, is paramount in our academic and professional worlds. Writing has always been important and is as important as ever. What’s changed in the last few years is that publishing is not something reserved for a ‘blessed’ few. Publishing is now something available to all on-line and is often how our young professionals will forge a professional identity. Writing now without publishing is like singing without a concert or show, or playing sports without a game. Whether it’s through social media, YouTube, ITunes, blogging, their own websites our countless other digital vehicles, publishing is now available to all. What use to be reserved for the elite (authors, university professors and academicians) is now available to all. We need to challenge all of our students to have a web presence in order to share their digital portfolios on an on going and focused basis. The old adage of “publish or perish” may now extend beyond professors and be more relevant than ever.

     So, is it possible that our future educational endeavors with all students could work to include the 8 P’s? Let’s hope it’s at least worth considering.

Passion, Partnerships, Personal, Present,
Problem Solving, Professional, Public & Publish

(images courtesy of Foter)