Thursday, October 27, 2016

Give Me the 5 C's!

I want you to imagine what would happen if a student’s report card were organized by critical skills, not subject matter. Students would be assessed on their progress on the 5 C’s: collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and citizenship. Suppose subjects, content, and standards were a means of enabling students to make progress on the critical skills with the appropriate steps taken to ensure students were exposed to important areas of content. Imagine that each student’s progress was evaluated with constructive feedback to enable students to create craftsman like work through multiple drafts. I can imagine students discovering their gifts and talents given this type of learning environment, and then setting out on a path across a broad range of careers.

I fully recognize the importance of exposing our students to the fundamental building blocks, important concepts, historical figures and events, and inspiring literature. However, to my knowledge, no one has come up with what content knowledge is absolutely essential. Our students now live in a world that is globally competitive and rewards excellence and punishes mediocrity. Young people pursuing a career for which they have no passion will certainly find themselves unsuccessful, unhappy, or both. Our goal at all levels should be to expose students to a wide array of pursuits and assist them in finding their gifts, talents, or passion. When I enter a kindergarten class, I see kids full of curiosity, exploration, and passion. But unfortunately, it’s a rare high school student who demonstrates any joy for something related to his or her education. This is the real issue. A student in high school who is just going through the motions and “playing the game” at school is a  young adult who isn’t learning or developing skills to be prepared for college, career, or life.

As we implement our strategic plan, which includes the 5 C’s and deeper learning opportunities, students will be getting an education that will prepare them for their world after high school. They will be learning how to learn. And just because students and teachers may be having fun at school shouldn’t cause you to conclude they are not learning. While this might sound too ambitious to be achievable, it is in fact, possible for students and teachers to experience a learning environment in which standards and content are covered while developing the critical skills our children will need to succeed.

Every Child, Every Day.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Vision and Mission for Our Schools

Our vision for Isle of Wight County Schools is to create a learning environment that will enable every child to discover his or her unique gifts and talents. Our mission as educators is to enhance and expand on each child’s gifts and talents to ensure every child is college, career, and life ready. This is simple and to the point. Somehow legislators, administrators, and teachers over the last 20 years seemed to have lost their way. If you ask most of these well intentioned groups of people, they will probably tell you the purpose of education is to teach students cognitive and social skills, prepare students to be contributing citizens, build character, assist students in self-discovery, inspire students and prepare students for productive careers.  If we look closely in most schools, do the classroom experiences match the purpose? Most schools struggle with getting past the teaching of cognitive skills.

Let’s discuss why this is happening and whether can we make a change here in Isle of Wight. The cognitive skills are defined by the Standards of Learning and accessed by the SOL tests. Therefore, we understand how to do this and how to measure the progress. When we start to address the other areas such as building character and self-discovery, we start asking ourselves, “How do we do that, and how do we know if we are making progress?” This is why we frequently have these goals in our priorities but we often do not take the time to incorporate them into our curriculum and common language.

How will we ensure that every child has the opportunity to discover his or her unique gifts or talents? The answer is: it has to become more than a slogan; it has to become integral to the culture in our schools. Students need time to explore and discover. For this to happen, schools have to look at their practices that are in direct conflict with self-discovery for students. Far too often school divisions articulate a vision for their schools, but, when the rubber hits the road, the way students are taught and evaluated demonstrates a priority to meticulously cover the specified content in a skill and drill type format. This leaves no room for self-discovery, communication skills, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and citizenship.

We will continue to provide training for teachers, administrators, and support staff to prepare them for opening new doors for our students. Teachers will be free to teach the Standards of Learning in innovative ways that will give students an opportunity to explore, discover, and create. I was inspired this summer by our staff’s commitment to improve instruction for our students during the training sessions held on deeper learning. After walking through all of our schools these first few weeks, I am more convinced that Isle of Wight County Schools will fulfill our promise to our students. Our teachers’ willingness to take risks and fail is a great model for our students.  If we do not let our students take risks, explore, and fail, then they will not discover who they are or how far they can go.  As we journey down this path, please get involved and ask questions.  We are definitely stronger when we all collaborate and communicate with each other.

Every Child, Every Day.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Safety of our Students and Staff is no Laughing Matter

There is a very disturbing trend going around through social media that is affecting schools across the country.  Individuals posing as clowns are making threats and warning of attacks on schools.  Unfortunately, Isle of Wight County is not immune to this sick behavior. 

Please know that we take all threats seriously and will continue to work closely with local law enforcement to examine any that mention harming students or staff.  Even though the Sheriff’s Department has not deemed any of these online statements as credible, we will continue to follow our safety procedures and protocols to ensure your children are protected while they are in our care.  We also appreciate those parents and students who have shared information with us so it can be investigated thoroughly. 

I encourage parents to have conversations with their children about the importance of reporting to an adult any situation that jeopardize student safety.  We will continue to share information with families and staff through our Connect 5 Alert system, as well as other outlets, such as our website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. 
I sincerely hope this disturbing trend will end soon.  Regardless, we will continue stay vigilant with our safety procedures in all of our schools.  If you have any questions about the security measures in your child’s school, please contact the building principal.  You can also contact my office if you need more information.