56. A National Imperative Implemented Over Time

Revolutionary change needs a definable cause, one that resonates with enough people to open possibilities.

Changes that remain over time are incremental. Such was the growth of democratic government and its maintenance.

For the new learning infrastructure to work, it needs revolutionary momentum. Steady growth over time. Acceptance by many constituents because the process works well for students and society in general.

The curriculum council is beginning to understand. High school language arts teacher Mike Hall offered interesting insights. High school principal Jack Dodd will now step up.

Rebecca Reconvenes the Council Meeting

Vernon dominated the last meeting of the council. I was not clear how to get discussion rolling again. I could turn everything back to Barbara. Let her continue the report from the communications subject area committee.

But the council had moved past that SAC’s report to discuss big issues related to what our schools should be for.

I could imagine David expounding on the word adroitness instead of mastery. Advocating ways to improve the quality of workers in his machine shop. Or Vernon telling us how people are unable to solve their own problems.

Interesting contributions but not ways to launch our version of the new learning infrastructure.

We needed a broader vision. Something more than semantics, specific student proficiencies, and particular kinds of behavior.

High school principal Jack Dodd once taught history and government. He is a bipartisan believer in democratic decision-making.

That is the way he leads his school. He tells faculty members he is a teacher currently serving as a building administrator. The title he holds was once “principal teacher,” someone responsible for overseeing the routine needs of those working and being served within the building.

Jack believes proposed changes in the district are akin to a national imperative. We as a people are influenced by what we learn and how we become. Within families, schools, communities, and organizations that give us values and meaning in our lives.

He thinks the district’s new endeavor is a way to underscore democratic practices. As opposed to autocratic processes that seem more purposeful and efficient — but only on the surface.

Like the current mode of improving American schools. The mode that is not working.

Jack appreciates Lincoln’s famous phrase in the Gettysburg Address: “Democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.”  

Jack told me, “Institutions within our American system of governance are always improved when strong collaborative leaders reach out. When they nurture others to be better than they thought they could be.

As I believe Lincoln would phrase it, “We are who we believe we are. We have a responsibility to act on those beliefs for the benefit of everyone.”

Out of that philosophy, Jack offers ideas for selling the new learning infrastructure by redefining:

  • The source of curriculum (an amalgam of scholastic knowledge, pragmatic interpretations of that knowledge, and the tapping of insights arising from an awareness of human potential).
  • The primary goal of teaching (conveying factual information and merging it with the uniquely human ability to reflect on the meaning of those facts in our lives and society).
  • The measurement of human growth and potential (an ongoing activity that requires those who guide learning to be continually sensitive to the level in which others are becoming more insightful, capable, and effective in their own right).
  • The ultimate goal of education (to create a human culture that features ongoing improvement of self and society in ways that make life worthwhile and meaningful).

I said, “Those four descriptors need ordinary language for the public to understand what they mean.

“We are saying that in our proposed new learning infrastructure teachers will play a much larger role in determining the source of the curriculum. Students will be taught to think more deeply about what they are learning. The testing of student learning will be the ongoing responsibility of teachers using multiple strategies. And education should be designed to help human beings live a more engaged and meaningful life.

“We are suggesting those four descriptors are the opposite of what is happening now. To wit: Teachers are mere conduits through which curriculum created by others indoctrinates students. Students are expected to mechanically meet academic standards established by experts. Students parrot back what they learn on tests created by people other than their classroom teachers. Students are adequately prepared to live and work in a carefully managed society.”

The language used in those descriptors was dramatic. Everything hinged on the quality of teachers and how accountable they would be in achieving the goals of the new learning infrastructure.

Quality of teachers has always been a major sticking point. But the issue is now paramount for many reasons.

Probably the most significant is the pandemic-induced shortage of teachers. Replacing them will likely entail lowering certification and employment criteria.

How can we upgrade the instructional quality depicted in the new learning infrastructure with novice teachers possessing minimal baseline credentials? There is a way to do it. A method involving considerable staff and faculty development in the areas of curriculum writing and instructional design.

To open the conversation, I decided to share my perspective on how teachers should be held accountable as a contrast to the methods used now. The suggested method is associated with the Teaching and Learning Contract model I developed for the communications SAC:

Formative Assessment (type or types): Oral (X):   Written (X):   Product (X):   Performance (X):   DESCRIPTION OF FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT:

This contract requires a strong and well written curriculum with teachers trained to use it effectively. The key idea is that transparency is the basis of true accountability. There are no mysteries or hidden agendas.

Therefore, I plan to make that process and this template a centerpiece for how we can overcome the challenges associated with implementing the new learning infrastructure in the face of multiple obstacles.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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