Friday, May 10, 2013

Why is it different in school?

I have been in the workforce since the age of 15 and a half. When I first began, it was part time work as a cashier and stock boy in a local pharmacy. If there was a large project that needed to be completed, especially in a short amount of time, a few of us working that day would work together, divide the tasks, and, at the end of the day, report out what was completed and what still needed to be done. The people working the next day would pick up where we left off until the project was complete.

This process continues in my work as an administrator. When a large project comes in, we will sit down, discuss the goals and expected outcomes, divide up the tasks, assign realistic deadlines, and provide progress reports. If one of us runs into an issue or has a question, we ask our colleagues for their expertise, guidance, and ideas. When complete, it is OUR project. While individuals might be recognized for a specific contribution, it is the work of the whole that gets evaluated. We stand or fall together.

As a child, I participated in multiple team sports and learned the skills of cooperation, teamwork, problem solving, settling disputes, providing guidance, accepting assistance. These skills were mirrored at home because I have a sister and we would have to get along. When disputes arose, we had to figure out how to co-exist peacefully.

But, as I grew up, I also received conflicting training and information. For 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 36 weeks a year, I was told that I needed to work only by myself. I could not confer with others, share ideas, or seek out advice from someone with more experience. In the rare instance that I was able to work with someone else, when it came time for the task completion, I had to complete my own and the credit or fault was all mine. The same was true for anyone with whom I may have worked. Work was duplicated and it was evaluated on an individual basis.

Why the two different systems? Why is it different in school than out in the "real world"?

I understand that in the early grades it is a matter of ensuring that each student has assimilated essential skills in order to effectively participate in a team structure and share in the problem solving. It is even essential to do so in the upper grades as new information is introduced in newer, more complex content areas. But if we focus on skill development, once the basics have been introduced, should we, in the educational world, model the skills and project completion models that the business world is asking for?

Having been a part of our career and college readiness, I have heard from many local business leaders that they would prefer a generalist, who has good communication, teamwork, and problem solving skills, and the business can provide them more job-specific training. That models what Thomas Friedman discusses in The World is Flat. Schools will need to meet the flexibility that the working world has discovered the need for.

Why do schools force isolation, in both practice and assessment? Why does the federal government mandate it...without funding.

Let's try something different! Flip the class, PBL, cooperative assessments...something has to give. Leaders need to be supportive as they push instruction out of the standard comfort zone of the adults to move the learning into the comfort zone of the students!