by Cathy Gassenheimer
When I was in school and needed to do some research, I turned to two things: the World Book Encyclopedia
and the card catalogue. The encyclopedia, neatly arranged A to Z, offered a publisher's selection of facts about a limited number of topics.
The card catalogue held more promise of "knowledge," but if it led me to sources that were in the “Research Section” where books could not be checked out but only used inside the library, I had to either read the source there or hope to find a photocopy machine to capture the pertinent material for later reference.
Because this hunt-find-copy cycle was cumbersome and time-consuming, my focus was often more on obtaining the physical artifacts than thinking deeply about the actual research content and its implications.
Things have certainly changed dramatically when it comes to accessing information. Yet too many schools still seem to operate as if that pair of “go-to sources” from my youth were still viable. Students still spend too much time learning dates, facts, formulas and formats, but don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about how this information can be connected and applied in creative and purposeful ways.
Clearly, we need to make a shift, and Alabama’s College and Career Standards provide the impetus for that change by challenging us to promote deeper thinking and more real-world application in our classrooms.
An idea-filled roadmap to better schools
The vast majority of educators want to innovate and change, they just need some help figuring out how to strategically change in ways that improves teaching AND learning.
That’s where the new book
by Lyn Sharratt and Gale Harild can help. Good to Great to Innovate: Recalculating the Route to Career Readiness, K-12+
, provides a roadmap to help districts and schools embrace innovations that improve teaching and learning.
In his foreword, education thought leader Michael Fullan says "the book is crystal clear on charting the course, showing how leadership matters, bringing all children into the picture, closing the gap of learning, positioning choice of pathways, and being explicit that skilled teachers matter a great deal."
Lyn Sharratt, a colleague of Fullan and a former superintendent, coordinates the doctoral internship program for the Educational Administration Department at the University of Toronto. She also is an advisor to the International School Leadership Program for the Ontario Principal’s Council. Gale Harild (r) is an instructional leader for York University and former curriculum administrator for the York Regional District School Board in Ontario.
The book is "a treasure-trove" (Fullan's words) of ideas, suggestions, rubrics, and tables that education leaders will find valuable. It also provides a literal map or frame—Pathways to Career Readiness
(p. 12)—that educators can use to better ensure effective student engagement and improved student learning, with a laser-like focus on readiness for postsecondary and/or careers.
This pathway leads to what the authors call TrueNorth
. Not every student has the same TrueNorth,
so the pathways need to be flexible and customized to meet their needs.
“In life’s journey, we are often uncertain where we stand, where we are going, and what is the right path to follow. We all have our own TrueNorth; we just need the right supports, resources, and guidance systems to get us there.” (p. 10)
With today’s technology and students who outside of school are engaged in technology almost every waking hour, this shift is not only possible, but also necessary if we want students to be successful and productive citizens of tomorrow.
Quoting Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley in their book The Global Fourth Way
(2012), Sharratt and Harild stress the importance of districts and schools identifying the right kind of purpose: “To be high-achieving, educators in school systems need the right kind of purpose that inspires them, a strengthened professionalism that propels them forward, and a cultural and structural coherence that holds them together (p. xi).”
Book’s Organization and Schema
Good the Great to Innovate
is organized into six chapters:
- Charting the Course
- Leadership Matters!
- All FACES Matter!
- Closing the Gap to Raise the Bar
- Choice Matters!
- Skilled Teachers Matter!
There are also 11 appendices full of valuable information. Additionally, each chapter closes with a reflection by a noted education thought leader, including Ken Leithwood, Andy Hargreaves, and Yong Zhao.
Each chapter begins with a sidebar of “Questions that Matter Most” related to that chapter’s topic. And, each chapter ends with another sidebar of suggestions and ideas “Steps to Students’ Success.”
Connection to Our Work
This book also relies on the extensive research of Ken Leithwood on effective leadership practices and offers a table and commentary highlighting the nine key characteristics of strong school systems. The authors also turn to John Hattie’s research that identified actions leaders can take to result in improved student learning (pp. 45-46):
- Observe in classrooms
- Interpret test scores with teachers
- Focus on instructional issues
- Ensure a coordinated instructional program
- Are highly visible
- Communicate high academic standards
- Ensure class atmospheres are conducive to learning.
The instructional core and the questions we use in the instructional rounds ABPC facilitates are also mentioned by the authors, who add two questions to the basic three questions we suggest asking students when visiting a classroom:
Authors Lyn Sharratt (left) and Gale Harild
Up-shifting to a New Mindset
- What are you learning?
- How are you doing?
- How do you know?
- How can you improve?
- Where do you go for help? (p. 50)
An intriguing concept for me is the authors' contention that educators need to individually and collectively “up-shift” to create a new mindset “where all stakeholders see themselves as having a responsibility to excellence and increased student achievement” (p. 86).
In practice, this “up-shift” means trading in many of our current notions for a totally new way of thinking about how and why we challenge learners:
“More challenging does not mean preparation for university. Challenging can be anything that stretches students’ thinking and pushes them to learn more deeply in preparation for any postsecondary destination.” (p. 89)
This up-shift can be best understood when looking at the framework
developed by the Assessment and Teaching of 21st
Century Skills project (2014):
- Ways of Thinking
- Ways of Working
- Tools for Working
- Living in the World
Suggesting the skills identified by this framework are “universal and wanted by all for all,” the authors provide a list of knowledge, abilities, and dispositions needed for each of these identified skills. Educating this way requires educattors to embrace of hands-on learning strategies such as collaborative inquiry, experiential learning (including apprenticeships and internships), and a gradual release of responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student.
Of course, this up-shift requires that teachers and administrators be supported as they make this change through effective, ongoing professional learning. In fact, the authors identify 11 important professional learning components that support this change.
Everyone needs to reflect
Finally, the authors stress the importance of teacher and student reflection. Cognitive scientists like David Perkins remind us that if we don’t reflect, we don’t learn. And we reflect best when we are actively engaged.
Historical figures agree: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” (Benjamin Franklin). Too often, the authors contend, reflection is the missing part of the learning equation, and they stress the importance of intentionally factoring in a reflection component in every lesson.
Certainly this up-shift in thinking will require hard work, persistence, and commitment on the part of teachers. But, don’t our students deserve our very best? Let’s give John Hattie a final word as he reminds us “learning is hard work.”
Let’s forget the education system of old that relied on card catalogues and the World Book.
Let's put ourselves in the driver's seat and begin our up-shift in how we think and what we do to educate all children effectively in the 21st century.
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