Monday, September 17, 2012

Slice of Life - The Future of Education

Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers.

What is teaching going to look like over the next decade? What will schools look like? These questions have been rolling around in my mind. My school is completing a “building audit” right now. The majority of our schools are around a century old. My building is actually 118 years old. And a part of me loves that. I love the idea that children and teachers have passed through these doors before me. I love that I was a student in my classroom. I often tell my students to stop and dream – what do they want to be? I sat in these rooms and dreamed of being a teacher. Their dreams can come true too. I love my building.

At the same time I am well aware of the issues that come with buildings as old as mine. We obviously aren’t air-conditioned. Handicap accessibility is an issue. Wiring for technology can be interesting. Electrical wiring in general can be problematic. I’m well aware that while I love teaching in my building, I might not always be in it.

It was with curiosity that I attended the first meeting in a series of meetings surrounding our buildings last week. I went to it believing they would be talking about “what” we should build – a large elementary school or a high school. (Our middle school is relatively new.) Imagine my surprise when I was presented with more possibilities – yes we could build either of those buildings – but what should they look like? Should we stay with traditional classrooms or move towards more collaborative space? What will the role of the library be in twenty years? The computer lab? How do our buildings need to adapt? How does the furniture need to adapt?

I have heard the same statement repeatedly over the last few years – we are educating these children for jobs that don’t currently exist. With that being said, how do we prepare them to be successful? The term “21st Century Skills” is banded about when this discussion arises. What I know is this: kids need to know how to work together, how to problem solve, how to seek out knowledge. We can teach these things.

Then I watch videos like this one from Hank Green. Hank, for those of you who don’t know, is author John Green’s brother. They have a wildly popular YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers. They also have channels where they teach on topics related to science and social studies. Check this out:

When I watch Hank and John’s videos, I think of the amazing things that technology does for us now. It has created a group of like-minded individuals that are working to “decrease world suck.” It has helped me to find members of a professional learning network across the country. Here’s a screen shot of six of us talking about Evernote last night. We all wanted to learn more so we jumped online. The world is large, but we’re making it smaller.

With that being said, here’s the thing. Looking around today, some classrooms aren’t that dissimilar from the ones I learned in back in 1992. Is that a good thing? Overall, I’d say no. On the other hand, I am currently reading Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them. I firmly believe that good writing instruction is good writing instruction. It is now and will be in twenty years. So what is the answer as we move to the future?

New buildings are great. New furniture is a fabulous idea. But I know one thing for sure. The teacher is critical. The quote I copied down tonight from Penny’s book was this:

In study after study when researchers took all of the factors that can impact student achievement – from parental income to school resources to parental support to per pupil spending in a school district – the factor that had a great impact than all of the others combined was the effectiveness of the classroom teacher.

Pg. 3 of Write Beside Them
Wow. Let that one sink in for a minute. So what I’m taking away from this whole thought is this. We matter. As teachers, what we do matters. It is critical that we keep striving to do our best and that we keep learning. In a time where it is hard, where the media might not be kind to us, we need to keep our eye where it belongs, our students. I might not know what the future of education looks like, what the future of the buildings look like. And yes, the idea of new buildings with sufficient space, furniture that isn’t hand me downs, and air conditioning, seems wonderful, I will remember that it is our teaching, our effectiveness, that produces the biggest results. I will keep learning on my own from mentors like Penny, Donalyn Miller, and my PLN. And I will keep growing, because to me – this is the fun stuff.