Mary Chapman finds what appears to be a unique school district. As the story unfolds, Mary’s initial perceptions turn out to be accurate.
The depressing aspect was that she rejected 90% of the districts reviewed via webpages.
Some of them emphasized only basic organizational structures. They gave lip service to their mission using a sentence or two.
Others presented board members and an administrative staff with celebratory pictures of students involved in athletics. Test score rankings were center stage in some webpages, while others featured buildings.
Links provided for academics usually focused on subjects and grade levels. Sometimes teachers’ names or pictures were used along with email addresses.
But no substance.
Mary told her husband, “Most districts do not seem to have a soul. They are dehumanized agencies going through bureaucratic processes.”
A school district’s soul was important to Mary. She defined “Soul” as an animated principle.
The soul of the school district reveals who its people are, what they earnestly believe, and how they work together to achieve quality student learning.
Mary Chapman’s Story – Part 13
The interview was set up with an initial meeting with the district’s personnel director. During the three hours of the second day, I met with other district employees, parents, students, and patrons. Exhausting and exhilarating.
What surprised me most about the two-part interview was its tenor — how I was allowed to feel and the extent to which my opinions mattered.
Although I planned carefully for these discussions, I was surprised they listened so intently. My answers often elicited lengthy discussions.
One startling aspect was how much everyone already knew about me. True, I wrote extensively about my beliefs and background as part of the application process. But these people actually read and reflected on my words.
I surprised them by knowing so much about the district. Its web page was complete and informative.
My husband and I conducted a practice inquiry to ensure my knowledge was thorough. We developed a set of incisive and probing questions.
My concern was that my questions would be considered rude. But that was not the case. Everyone eagerly responded and approvingly asked why I pursued certain points so vigorously.
The theme to the process was the focus on student learning. What it is, how it should be stimulated, and what the result should be.
They listened to me, seemingly interested in how well I listened to them. It was clear my membership on their team was not to be characterized by compliance. Rather by a dynamic give-and-take.
In this district, intellectual engagement was not just a euphemism. These people were not just playing linguistic games. They immersed me in an inclusive interchange of ideas and possibilities.
When I told my husband about the experience, he said, “It sounds like my IT work — more creative thinking. The important outcome needs to be convergence.”
Convergence in my husband’s company was a type of thinking outside each person’s cubicle. Convergence in the district was similar. Each teacher could think outside the walls of the classroom and subject matter.
To see the big picture in terms of student growth and becoming.
One of my older professors talked about the mid-20th Century with a blossoming of “integrated curriculum.”
While many experiments were conducted in elementary school self-contained classrooms, middle and high schools also tried what was known as interdisciplinary team teaching.
The movement picked up steam, especially in middle schools, until states began their push toward developing standards and high stakes tests.
The final nail in the coffin was the imposition of No Child Left Behind in 2001.
Integrated curriculum was not designed to focus intensely on subject disciplines. The kind of knowledge students needed to pass high stakes tests in specific subjects only.
Scholastic rigor was the new mantra, which discounted the importance of graduates connecting the dots between and among disciplines. Subjects such as math, except for story problems, was treated in its purist application by any type of summative assessment. Classroom-based or standardized.
The only major iteration of that interdisciplinary approach today is found in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), but limited to vocational/career applications. Not broad-based integrated knowledge.
The word convergence is not a reference to integrated curriculum or interdisciplinary instruction. It seems to have a meaning associated with two conditions:
(1) The recognition that skills in one discipline can overlap another, such as math and economics, history and literature, science, and sociological changes.
(2) Careful spiraling of curricular content from grade to grade.
A sidebar definition of convergence was also addressed and considered every bit as important. The relational side — how all stakeholders in the district think collaboratively.
That includes professional educators but also relationships with parents and guardians in student homes.
My perceptions and feelings about all those convergent topics were drawn out in depth. So my unique interview greatly influenced my thinking about the district, the programs, and its people.
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