Friday, January 31, 2014

21st Century Education… “It still takes a Village”

Student: “When am I ever going to use this?" 
Teacher: "Right now!”

21st Century Education… “It still takes a Village”

How often in your educational experience did you wonder, “When am I ever going to use this?”  As an educator, this is the dreaded question.  It questions the relevance of what we do; challenging us to identify how our teaching is preparing our students for their futures.  Many teachers hate this question, but it is an important one that we should be willing to ask ourselves and that we should be ready to answer when working with our students, their families, and our communities.

We live in a constantly changing world, and education needs to reflect the pace at which the world moves. The reality of our world is that nobody can predict what the future will look like.  We can’t group our students into traditional careers like accountants, auto mechanics, and teachers. The top 10 fastest growing jobs in 2012, did not exist in 2004.  With the exponential changes we are seeing in technology, all current projections have similar expectations for the next ten years.  Our old ways of preparing students for the future need to change.  In many ways, they already have.

As educators, we need to inspire and empower our students to be the citizens, stewards, and leaders that our communities need in order to face the challenges of this century.  This means engaging in projects and learning experiences that immerse our kids in their communities- learning from experts and working together to solve real-world problems.  If we want students who have a creative ability to think “outside of the box”, then we need to question why their education only happens “in a box”?

Many of the recent shifts in education in our state- Personalized Learning Plans, Flexible Pathways to Graduation, and the adoption of the Common Core State Standards- acknowledge that we should be emphasizing skills, not content; and student engagement, rather than conformity. Regardless of what their career choices might be, there are certain skills and aptitudes that they will need to master.  For example, it doesn’t matter if you are a lawyer in a courtroom, a businessperson giving a pitch, or a contractor giving an estimate, you will need to be persuasive and you will need to have evidence to support your claim.  You will also need to be an effective communicator and willing to work with a wide range of people.  These are things we all know and expect in the workforce. These are also skills that we are explicitly teaching in our schools.

The face of education is changing, as is the role of the teacher. With students designing projects ranging from trail networks to outdoor classrooms to greenhouses for our school gardens, I can’t expect to teach them everything they need to know about their topic.  I can, however, put them in touch with experts in each field, giving my students a chance to engage with professionals, to work on meaningful projects, and to develop skills that they can apply across a broad range of possible careers.  This is where the village comes in.

For too long, the responsibility of preparing our children for the future has been shouldered too heavily by the education system.  We need the support of our communities in order to give our students the opportunities that they will need in order to lead successful and engaged adult lives.  For businesses, this means opening your doors to interns and giving them an opportunity to see what will be expected of them in the future.  For professionals, it means being willing to share your expertise with students who have an interest in learning more about what you do.  For all of us, it means recognizing the fact that the most important job any of us can ever have is in making sure that we are preparing our children, as best we can, for the future paths that they will take.



Thursday, January 30, 2014

NSTOY Conference - Day 4 Reflection

Inspired Educators - Representatives from the 50 states and 4 US Territories
It is hard to believe how much can transpire in a short week when surrounded by so many remarkable people.  Having come to Phoenix with little understanding of the TOY journey ahead of me, I find myself leaving this conference with a new vision for myself and a strong desire to return home and create change in education.  I've been challenged, motivated, provoked, questioned, and, ultimately, inspired to move forward from this conference with a new vision for education and a new understanding of the role I can play in bringing it into fruition.

As always, I know that I will struggle with finding a balance between my work and personal lives.  My driven nature always pushes me to do more than I probably should, especially with two young children and an incredibly supportive wife at home.  I'm kind of like a light switch; I only have an "on" and an "off".  For me, I have always struggled with sprinting ahead, when I should be taking on a marathon pace.  This will be even more vital in this upcoming year, when I will desire to do as much as possible with this unique and honorable opportunity.
Myself, Luke Foley-2014 Vermont Teacher of the Year with
Angela Ross- Vermont Agency of Education Public Relations

But this brings up another challenge.  While it seems impossible that I could add more to my plate, I also don't want to drop some of the projects that I've been working so diligently on over the past few years.  I want to engage in educational policy reform on all levels, but I don't want to neglect our Farm to School program.  I want to attend national conferences as a representative of my state, yet I care about the Curriculum Committee in my school.  I'm looking forward to a trip to the White House in April, but I wonder who will coach my track kids while I'm gone.  I don't know if I can do it all.  But I'm going to try.

Monday, January 27, 2014

NSTOY Conference - Day 3 Reflection

"To whom much is given, much is expected." - John F. Kennedy

By now, it is becoming imminently clear to all of us that this year, being recognized as state Teachers of the Year, is an amazing privilege.  But with every great privilege, comes great responsibility.  We find ourselves excited by the ideas we're generating; by the vision we're collectively shaping.  And still, we also find ourselves wondering how exactly we will fit these grandiose ideas into our everyday lives without sacrificing our families, our friends, our colleagues, and our teaching.  This is perhaps the most daunting aspect of this great recognition.

I once heard an introduction of Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States.  As he was introduced to receive a prize, a full twenty years after his presidency, it was said of Carter that he, "used his presidency to go on to do bigger and better things."  Think about that!  In what is often considered to be the penultimate position in all of America, Carter continued moving forward; shaping lives and sharing his vision for the world.  The scope of his efforts reached far beyond his single-term presidency.

I look to that description and I draw inspiration- to not let this year slip away and to be sure to recognize this as a beginning, and most definitely not an end.  Where exactly I might start is still unclear to me.  To know how to begin on this incredible journey, especially following this burst of enthusiasm, energy, and inspiration, seems lofty.  As one of my students once described this feeling, after being exposed to ideas that stretch and challenge us, "I guess I just got to let it marinade for a little while."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

NSTOY Conference - Day 2 Reflection

Why are we here?  Why, of the multitudes of great teachers throughout the United States, were we chosen to represent the best that our profession has to offer?  And with this humbling honor, how do we ensure that we do everything within our power to not squander this most rare opportunity?  When we look back at our tenure as our state's Teacher of the Year, what will our legacy be?

Inspiration and Fun at the Botanical Gardens!
I am amazed at the humility, yet quiet confidence, exuded by each and every Teacher of the Year at this conference.  In a moment, it is evident to me why each individual was chosen to represent their state.  Still, each of us recognizes that we cannot be the best; that it is impossible that there is no one who is working harder, who is more innovative, or that is having a bigger impact on their students' lives.  And yet, we are the ones who have been chosen to carry the torch for this next year (and, obviously, for much longer even after our tenure is up).

Mr. Idaho, Jamie Esler, checking out the unique
rock formations outside of Scottsdale.

It is impossible to sit in a conference room, at a dinner table, or in a lounge chair (yes, it is 75 degrees here in Arizona), and not shake with excitement to take these ideas back home, or to get goosebumps listening to peoples' stories of how and why they have been impacted in their own educations; how they continue to impact others with their work.  This is just the kind of dialogue and inspiration that all educators should have.  Our work is hard enough as it is; we need to celebrate what we are all doing so well.

I don't know, yet, what my message will be.  I don't have a strong sense of where these inspirations, connections, and visions might take me.  I do know that I cannot waste this year, or any year, in which it is vitally important for all of us to stand up for the brilliant and undervalued work that we do.  And hopefully I can bring a little bit of this magic back to my state; a little bit of this palpable enthusiasm back to my colleagues; and a whole lot of inspired rhetoric back to my communities.

This structure looks a lot like the outdoor classrooms my
students are in the process of designing and planning for
our school.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

NSTOY Conference - Day 1 Reflection

It's 4:30 a.m. here in Phoenix and I'm having a hard time sleeping.  As a parent of two kids - ages 2 years and 10 days- I assure you that there is nothing more frustrating than having an absolutely quiet, totally dark, super comfortable hotel room where I get to rest my head, but in which I can't seem to fall back asleep.  As I laid here for nearly a half hour, desperately trying to find more rest, my head swarmed with ideas and my heart bounded with excitement.  The first day of this prestigious conference is done, and already I am inspired beyond belief.

Yesterday afternoon some of the best teachers from all 50 states and several US Territories came together in sunny Phoenix to share, collaborate, network, and, ultimately, to work together to craft a positive message about the state of education in the United States.  Any time you put more than 50 people together who are motivated, enthusiastic, and opinionated about what is right and wrong in education, you're bound to create conversation.  In fact, most of us have been so captivated by these meetings that we've forgotten the most basic of social graces - remembering someone's name who you have just met.  For now, I can suffice as Vermont, and, I'm sure, most other teachers are happy to represent their state.  We'll work on names later.

In all of this excitement, I am moved by the stories of the people who have come together here.  We come from all walks of life and are working with all sorts of schools, programs, students, and families.  Inevitably, we all end up sharing what we love, and struggle with, in our roles as educators.  It is interesting to learn of the different challenges we all face depending upon our region, state, school, or community.  I find inspiration in each person's ability to create such a difference in the place that they teach.  It is unfortunate, but, as teachers, we don't come together often enough to share and to build a mutual inspiration for what we do.  Having this week to shift my focus totally to the task of collaborating and learning from the best teachers around is just the burst of energy that my teaching needs in these cold, dark days of mid-January.

Now, if I could just make sure that the burst of energy doesn't come at 4 in the morning any longer... I still need to get some sleep.