I spent a good part of the 1990s working towards creating an alternative to traditional schooling for my own daughter and the children of similarly-minded parents. For an assortment of reasons, none of which had anything to do with education, we didn’t get the school operational. There is a big part of me that still longs for that alternative and I am always interested to hear of situations which espouse similar beliefs and attitudes to mine. When I do, my heart starts to race and I want to holler and jump for joy, shouting from the rooftops, “See it can be done! This is how it should be! This is what children need!” I want to be in there with them, a part of it all, learning from and with them, and perhaps even adding a little to their learning, should I be that impudent to suggest it possible.
Yesterday was one such occasion. I popped over to Tara Smith’s A Teaching Life blog and read her post “Preparing for a student teacher”. I always enjoy reading Tara’s blog and could identify with much of what she was feeling while preparing to welcome a student teacher into her classroom. But what got me most excited was a video of a talk given by Chris Lehmann at the 2013 MassCue (Massachusetts Computer Using Educators) conference.
Chris Lehmann is the founding principal of the inquiry-driven Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia. The achievements of both Chris and the SLA are rather impressive. You can read about them here, here and here. Chris is one excited, enthusiastic and inspiring educator.
The video of Chris’s keynote address to the conference is rather long at almost 1 hour and 8 minutes (in comparison the mostly 15-minute TED talks that I often watch). I admit that when I saw how long it was I baulked, wondering if I had that amount of time to “spare”. Fortunately something in Tara’s words induced me to do so. After all I didn’t have to watch it all, did I? But watch it all I did. How could I not? His dream was my dream:
And then Chris added:
‘all these people showed up and breathed life into that dream’
Here is his talk. If you don’t have time to listen to it all, I give you a few of my favourite quotes. (You may have already encountered some of these ideas before on my blog!) But who knows, he may have other thoughts that resonate with you.
Chris says that many people often ask why schools can have so many problems when there are so many passionate, dedicated teachers. He answer is simple: ‘We have a systemically screwed up system and if you put a good person in a bad system the system wins way too often.’ He says that ‘the factory model of education . . . no longer works for our children if it ever did.’
Chris says that one of the biggest problems with many schools is that students are being repeatedly told to do stuff that they may never need or even care about. He says, ‘If we were to write a students’ bill of rights the first statement on it should be this question:
‘Why do I need to know this?’
He then goes on to say that ‘They shouldn’t even need to ask it because the reason should be so apparent through the work that they are doing that is meaningful and relevant to their life right now.’
He says that kids can do amazing things but that the sad thing is that unless it can answer a question on a state-wide test, no one will care! He says that using data from standardised tests is dangerous and that the best data comes from the work students are doing in class every day.
He says that better questions to ask of schools would be:
‘What is your college persistence rate?
How many of your graduates five years out are either in school or in a job where they are over the poverty level?
What does a student survey of your school tell you about whether or not the students feel valued and feel that their education is valuable?’
These are just some of the things that Chris Lehmann says schools should be:
- Inquiry driven
- Student centred
- Teacher mentored
- Community based
- Places of collaboration and incredible passion with
- Integrated learning
- Project based
In traditional classrooms the assessment tool is a test. Chris talks not about tests but about projects. He says,
“If you really want to see what a kid has learned it’s about the project, it’s about what they can do, what they can create, what they can transfer, what they can make, what they can do with their own head, heart and hands. A true project is when kids get to own it.’
His goal is to educate people to be ‘thoughtful, wise, passionate and kind’ and says that
‘ what were really trying to do is nothing less than trying to change the world.’
This brings me back to my two previous posts How much of a meliorist are you? and Can you make a difference? which drew quite a debate (unintended) about whether we believe we can, or should, try to change (i.e. improve) the ‘world’. I think Caroline Lodge who blogs at book word sums it up quite nicely for educators, saying
‘ I am a meliorist. How can someone in education stay there if they are not? The kids improve their skills and understanding, the world turns, and sometimes (like this summer) seems on the way to hell in the proverbial handcart. But there are SO MANY people working to improve the world. Educators as special people in this.’
‘The link between an inquiry-driven education and a care-driven education are three simple questions:
What do you think?
How do you feel?
What do you need?’
He says, ‘Everything you do should empower children.’ Thanks Chris. My words exactly!
‘Kids can do real work. We have to dare them to do that, we’ve got to help them, we’ve got to facilitate the work and we’ve got to get out of the way.’
The Science Leadership Academy is not the only ‘school’ of note. In response to previous posts, including Food for thought and Are you ready to embrace the future Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch left comments and links to information about a school attended by her children, the Minneapolis’s School of Environmental Studies (SES). Charli linked to this article about the school and another on Edutopia that includes a 10-minute video that she says aptly describes what makes SES a learner-based school. She also provided a link to a very impressive student project developed by two of her daughter’s classmates, and a link to a video produced by students explaining the school. Overall, if I represent her views correctly, Charli was very happy with the education her children received at SES and the impact that project-based learning had on their lives.
These are just two of the many wonderful schools out there empowering learners. If you know of others, I’d love to hear about them.
I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post. I’m happy to follow the discussion wherever you lead.