Your Schools: All the things I used to know…A superintendent colleague was speaking reflectively at a meeting I attended last week, her main message being “Learn from the past, but don’t live it!”
By: Tom Westerhaus, School District Superintendent, River Falls Journal
A superintendent colleague was speaking reflectively at a meeting I attended last week, her main message being “Learn from the past, but don’t live it!”
She recommended that educators get their hands on a book by author/editor Richard F. Elmore, titled, “I Used to Think…And Now I Think.”
I’ve placed the book on my summer reading list, and I’m guessing the book will remind me that times in education (and everywhere else) have changed and the way we respond now must be very different from how we’ve responded in the past.
That started me thinking about my first year of teaching in 1972.
My first thought was, “Where did the 40 years go?” and my second thought was there was plenty about schools, teaching, students, and parents that I thought was true at the time — however, many of those I no longer believe in 2012.
Here’s a bit of wisdom born from my hard knocks over the years:
-- I used to think I knew what knowledge kids needed to survive in the world. Now I think that we can’t possibly know all of that for the 21st century. Instead, we need to focus on the skills they need to thrive and succeed.
-- I used to think the world was big but also finite and knowable. Now I think the world is small in size but more infinite and larger than my ability to comprehend it.
-- I used to think education was a one-size fits all. Now I think it isn’t.
-- I used to think that public education was the great equalizer for all. Now I think it still is, but some folks don’t really want it to be.
-- I used to think that teaching was both an art and a science. I still think that, but now I’m afraid that the artful, creative side of teaching has to do an inordinate battle with standards and assessments and accountability.
-- I used to think families were the first and best teachers. I still do, but now I know how poverty makes parenting difficult for those struggling to make ends meet.
-- I used to think that public schools were for Kindergarten through Grade 12 students. Now I think schools are for life-long learning by everyone in a community.
-- I used to think that good teaching and administration were both about relationships, relationships, relationships. I still do.
-- I used to think that school and district leadership belonged to the School Board and the principals’ and superintendent’s office. Now I think that leadership is found everywhere throughout the organization at every level, in every employee group, in every part of our district. Everyone leads in some capacity.
-- I used to think elementary reading and math were about word-decoding and computation. Now I believe they’re about comprehension, critical thinking, and real-world applications.
-- I used to believe that childhood was innocent and stress-free. Now I believe that’s how it should be, but that kind of childhood is quickly slipping away from our world.
-- I used to believe “differences” were scary and to be feared. Now I believe differences enrich education and everything in life.
-- I used to believe that if we just kept working harder and smarter, everyone would eventually get along and reach agreement. Now I believe that probably isn’t realistic but that civility with one another must still reign supreme.
I also asked my administrative team to add a few items to this list.
Here’s a sampling:
-- We used to believe grades were the most important thing in education. Now we believe they’re just one aspect.
-- We used to believe that grades reflected behavior and student conduct. Now we believe that grades should be about what students demonstrate they know and can do.
-- We used to believe that students should conform to our system. Now we believe that we should build our system around individual student needs.
-- We used to believe that you could only judge student growth based on what’s written on paper. Now we believe that growth should also be measured by many other methods.
-- We used to think education was only about academics. Now we believe that we have a part, along with parents, in teaching our community’s kids to be great people.
-- We used to think that our hardest jobs were teaching and creating a school system that made all the difference in a child’s future life. Now we know that we can’t control everything coming at students from all directions 24/7. Parents ultimately make the biggest difference in kids’ lives, whether for good or not-so-good.
-- We used to believe that a 4-year college degree was the only education necessary after high school. Now we believe there are many programs and institutions for continued learning and career-building throughout one’s life.
-- We used to believe that there were no politics in education. Now we know better.
-- We used to believe that the older we get, the more answers we’d have. Now we believe that the older we get, the more questions we have.
I guess, in education, one is never too old to learn.