Aligning for Momentum

“We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanged principles.” – J. Carter

As educators, we spend an inordinate amount of time creating or recreating momentum and flow within our system. From the district office down to the individual classroom, we have a tendency to approach education in a year to year, compartmentalized manner. Unfortunately, that same approach, viewed through the societal lens, may be a warning sign that our current system has run its course for a providing an appropriate 21st century education. Furthermore, the focus and magnification from that same societal lens will require us as educators to reflect deeply on current practices to determine if we are even adequately meeting the growing academic and emotional needs of our students. We may have to concede that rapid advances in technology and major shifts in our global economy have left our current approaches to education viewed as either deeply flawed or outdated for our current circumstances.

In an effort to advance our profession, reflection of and on current practices will be an important aspect of the process if our educational leaders are to better serve our students in the 21st century. Engaging in reflective thought, discourse and collaboration will be the catalyst for those same leaders to ask critical questions…questions that initiate new learnings that build capacity and spur forward action that motivates and moves us forward in our efforts to improve our current practice. Leaders who are willing to ‘mine for conflict’ through probing questions, who are willing to face the brutal truth of their current situation and circumstances, who seek collaboration and team-building, who appreciate and request honest feedback, will be the same leaders who bridge the divide from their current situation to an elevated level of learning for those they lead and the students they serve.

Educators must thoroughly appreciate that our world has changed and the work we do is of crucial importance to providing our students the necessary skills and ability to lead a full and abundant life.  We must also recognize that often our unwillingness to stay ahead of the curve hurts our children and decreases their opportunities for the future.  We must begin to analyze and root out those practices that inhibit flow and momentum in our classrooms, schools and districts from year to year. Acknowledging current successful practices, along with incorporating new and innovative strategies and structures should not be just a good start, it should be a requirement.

However, we must understand that this is no easy proposition and will require educators and educational leaders to relentlessly seek out new and innovative ideas and incorporate out of the box thinking.  Innovation of this magnitude will require courageous leaders who are willing to umbrella the possible fall out and shoulder the inherent risks faced from increased sanctions coupled with a growing public scrutiny aligned to high-stakes assessments.

Successful educational leaders will be those who invest the necessary time and effort into building a deeper understanding of systems thinking and will ultimately find themselves better prepared to vertically align programs and initiatives within their school or district.  When we have strong alignment within the system, students have a better opportunity to build momentum with their learning as each progressive year builds on the concepts and learning from the previous year.

When a school or district lacks the ability or willingness to create alignment within the system, we not only hinder flow and momentum for student learning, we actually provide our students with a disjointed and vision-less educational career. When each year is compartmentalized by stagnant, non-negotiable and often inflexible structures such as school calendars, the school day, master schedules, grading and/or homework policies, students begin to see each year as a separate entity in which they have to ‘get through’ to ‘get the grade.’  For many students it becomes a tedious and disjointed process till graduation, if they stay that long.  For most of our students, this compartmentalized, industrial mode of ‘doing’ education has outrun its effectiveness.

Finally, we need to look towards placing those non-negotiables on the table, we have to determine to do different, to work different, to think different, to be different if we are to offer our current students a real vision for their K-12 educational career. While there is no reliable and/or available data, I don’t believe that many of our current high school students can look over their school career and be able to reflect and articulate any type of vision for their many years in the K-12 educational setting. We have the opportunity to change that reality.