Friday, February 5, 2016

New Educational Outcomes

What are the skills that matter most in order for our students to be successful at learning, working, and being a good citizen in today’s world?  I have asked this question to many individuals, groups, businesses, and staff since July.  I also asked the School Board during our recent strategic planning session.  Most everyone agrees in the importance of the four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. 

Throughout my blogs, I have emphasized and described these skills as ones that matter most today. I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that we teach the four C’s instead of content knowledge. You cannot teach critical thinking without engaging students in challenging academic content.   In today’s world, students can learn facts about content from many sources other than the classroom teacher which is why it is more important to learn how to critically think and apply that knowledge. I believe we must integrate the 4 C’s every day in every classroom by teaching and assessing students on how to use these skills.

Can our students develop the skills needed to ask new questions, solve new problems, and create new knowledge? We can if we are able to create a new learning environment and culture within our schools in which students are motivated to learn. Motivation is a critical component of learning but it has been damaged by our emphasis on standardized multiple-choice assessments. Motivation is more than thrill factor.  I like to look at motivations at having several components, including grit, perseverance, and responsibility, all of which fall under the larger umbrella of “habits of heart and mind”.

So, is the current environment and culture of our schools diminishing student motivation for learning and how do we know? One way is to talk directly to our students.  With the assistance of Donaghvan Brown, student liaison to the School Board, I have conducted a focus group at Smithfield High School to better understand student motivation, student culture, and proposed new changes in education. I will be conducting a similar focus group at Windsor High School with Noah Smith.  In my next blog, I will share my findings and some of the insightful observations made by our students.

Our goal is to provide educational change that will inspire students to acquire new skills they can apply to any content knowledge throughout their lives, enabling them to be successful in this era of innovation. I hope to find out from the student focus groups just how we are doing with fulfilling that commitment to them.