I spent the weekend co-facilitating a workshop on PBL (I am in training in this model). I found the situation to be extraordinary. This was a group of people who will be starting a PBL / STEM school next fall in a large, urban setting. So the workshop was scheduled on the weekend because they all have other jobs currently.
The crazy part that I did not know ahead of time was that the participants had never met before and did not know each other. So they showed up on the weekend and jumped into a workshop with strangers who are going to be their future colleagues. I can not exaggerate how great this group of educators was. They bonded and started collaborating the first day. They dreamed big and had great ideas. They were not a bunch of recent college graduates either. Many of them were seasoned educators.
Barbara is a sweet educator who loves to encourage others and has 29 years of experience. She said that she has been waiting her whole life to be a part of a school like this. I truly was blown away by the passion for kids and learning in this group.
The principal of this new school has been dreaming of starting his own school for years and has spent over two years doing the hard background work for this one to be born. He told me that he was an administrator in the “system” and that it was too difficult to change. He was obstructed by other people all of the time. To him, the only way that he could create the right learning environment for kids without resistant adults interfering was to start a new school from scratch and hiring teachers who wanted to be a part of it.
So while they are not re-creating everything about education they are starting new. And I do think that there is something powerful about that. Every school and district has a culture. Changing culture is very, very hard.
When you create a new school you get to create your culture from a clean slate. It is not totally clean because it will be based on the experience of the staff, but it will be unique and different than where they came from. For example the Founding Fathers got to create a new government after the United States won independence from England. I would argue that they created an innovative, new system of government, but it was not created in a vacuum. It was based on their experience with British government and the ideals that they saw in Ancient Greece and Rome. The Founding Fathers then fused these ideas together to create a system that was definitely new in the world.
I don’t want to say that this is the only way to change schools, but it sure seems faster and more powerful than incremental change from within.
I teach in a similar situation as my school started four years ago in the PBL model and every staff member was hired because they wanted to be a part of it. This quote from Urban Teacher resonates with me:
I would add that it also takes administration that trusts teachers and treats them as professionals.
So the issue that I really want to weigh in on is the question of whether or not we need to blow up schools and start over?
Sometimes you need a revolution for things to change.
I often challenge folks to consider how/what they would teach, if, heaven forbid, a tornado came through and destroyed all of their schools. I am fairly certain it would have little resemblance to the traditional look we have today. As for curriculum, in a disaster scenario, it is back to the basics. Can each child read, write, compute (as in math). From there, can they build, install plumbing, electrical?
Thanks for providing some food for thought, Mike.
I am in agreement with opening up the curriculum and focusing on the basics. My biggest concern is to shift to a student-centered environment.
I have had similar feelings, to make real changes in education we have to wipe the slate clean and start again. I worry about collateral damage. our current system has many success ms many great teachers, hope can we blow it all up without causing harm to some? I feel the best way is to move slowly one school and community at a time with precision. if we just nuke the entire system too many people get hurt but with tactcticle bombing strikes the communities will see that all schools need to change.
I am not suggesting that we blow up all schools. I know my experience in the system was frustrating because of the constrictions of it. In this example the administrator was frustrated by teachers not getting on board with changes.
So while I admire people working inside the system for change, it seems so hard to me and discouraging when things seem to move so slow. Institutions just seem to fight any progress.