Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Celebrating Academic Excellence!

I wanted to share some pictures from our Academic Jacket Ceremony and share the history behind this newly established award for our seniors.  The pride and love that was felt that night in the auditorium is inspiring. Parents and family sharing in great academic accomplishments is what makes all the sacrifice worthwhile. 

The history of wearing a varsity jacket originated over 100 years ago. This time honored tradition is an outward symbol of hard work, determination and perseverance. Often the letter, pins and stars recognize athleticism and great accomplishments in a sport. At the Superintendent’s Academic Jacket Ceremony, we honor our students who have demonstrated great achievement in the classroom and maintained a grade point average of 3.75 or higher for their first three years of high school. I began this tradition of acknowledging students for academic excellence over 18 yrs ago and I am very excited and proud to be able to establish this tradition with Isle of Wight County Schools. With the assistance of a great sponsor, GCA, I am pleased that IWCS was able to present an academic jacket to over 80 extraordinary seniors.

Honoring accomplishments in academics lets students know that we appreciate the many hours of studying, note taking, reading, writing papers, listening to lectures, working in groups, and staying up after everyone is asleep to finish a project. This prestigious award celebrates the academic achievement of our top students, knowing that one of them may find the cure to cancer or life beyond our universe. To our accomplished students--we honor you; we honor your parents and the loved ones that have supported you throughout your academic journey. We congratulate the educators that helped each one of you meet your goals. We honor our future academic jacket recipients as they strive to one day earn their own academic jacket. Congratulations to all our honorees.

Our Students Can’t Wait, It’s Time for Change!

Finally in Virginia, there is movement to eliminate the multiple choice tests heavily focused on content. Tony Wagner points out in his book, Most Likely to Succeed, that just because you drill a student on the definition and spelling of tenacious doesn’t mean that the student will be tenacious.  He further states that drilling students on solving simultaneous equations does nothing to help them learn how to solve complex problems in life.  It is definitely time to move away from teachers covering a laundry list of facts and students completing mindless tasks in order to take state mandated tests. Performance-based assessments are slowly being implemented and replacing the out dated SOL tests. For students to be successful on these assessments, they will need the same skills the new global economy is demanding for them to be successful.  Collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking are the “Four C’s” that are integral to our students’ future.  Integrating these skills into the daily curriculum is long overdue.

As economies around the globe experience a steady decline of large bureaucratic companies, we can already see job creation coming from small, nimble companies with creative and innovative workers.  Therefore, the key question for our county is, “How well are we preparing our youth to succeed?” Tony Wagner states that if we continue to drill the innovation and creativity out of our students, we face the chilling prospect of having tens of millions of young adults without the skills necessary to participate and flourish in this new world.

The difficult task for many school divisions will be convincing teachers to change their way of teaching from this decades-old method.  If we continue to focus on what’s best for our students, then there shouldn’t be any debate about the urgency of making these changes in the classroom. I am encouraged to see inspiring examples of teachers who have already embraced this new challenge by turning their classrooms into engaging environments that enable students to create and discover without fear of failure.  Our teachers and educational leaders are having the important conversations now about how to embrace the changes that are necessary and identifying the training that will need to be provided as we move forward in meeting the needs of our post-millennials or Generation Z.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Seven Survival Skills

The primary goal of education should be to expose students to a wide array of opportunities in order for them to find a passion.  We want our children to have the skills to compete in a globally competitive world and also be happy and successful. Visit a pre-school anywhere and you will see children full of curiosity and excitement about learning. But unfortunately, it’s a rare high schooler who demonstrates any passion and excitement for something related to their education. Tony Wagner states, “A young adult just going through the motions at school is a young adult who isn’t learning or developing skills.”

In his book, Most Likely to Succeed, Tony Wagner describes Scarsdale High School as one of the most prestigious public schools in the country.  Sixty percent of the graduates are admitted to the most elite colleges.  One of their students, Rachel Wolfe, made a movie entitled Losing Ourselves.  This was about her and her classmates experience in school and the loss of purpose, passion, and curiosity from elementary school to high school.  I believe you will find this documentary very interesting.  You can view it at 

As parents and teachers we can assist our children in sustaining their passions and discovering new ones along their path in education.  Engaged students who have a passion for what they are doing will not only learn and retain factual information along the way; they will develop critical thinking skills, communication skills, and collaboration skills.  These are the lifetime competency skills or the survival skills that Tony Wagner believes are essential for success in our global society.

The “Seven Survival Skills” are:
  • ·         Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • ·         Collaboration across networks and leading by example
  • ·         Agility and adaptability
  • ·         Initiative and entrepreneurship
  • ·         Effective oral, written, and multimedia communication
  • ·         Accessing and analyzing information
  • ·         Curiosity and imagination

Imagine the possibilities for your children if schools had a clear set of achievement measures for each survival skill instead of just covering a large amount of content. What if we measured progress with how students use constructive feedback to show continuous improvement instead of a score on a multiple choice test that relies heavily on basic recall?  I believe if we build the competencies and passions of our students, they will be able to set their path and overcome obstacles along their journey in life.

We are all responsible for placing so much emphasis on the SOL tests.  These tests are never seen by an employer, college or university but somehow these tests have driven how we teach our children. I know if we focus our efforts on critical thinking, effective communication, collaboration, and the other skills mentioned, our children will not only pass their SOL tests, but they will be prepared and excited about their future in this new global society. Therefore, I believe it is up to each school community to make meaningful decisions and prioritize the skills we want our children to possess to be successful in their future.  Then we have to support our teachers and administrators when they focus on building these skills through authentic learning experiences.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Purpose Continued: Moving in the Right Direction

Last year the General Assembly took a huge step in the right direction by reducing the number of SOL tests required for elementary and middle school students.  More importantly, these tests, which consist of mostly multiple-choice, recall-style questions, will be replaced by performance-based assessments which will be developed at the local level.  These assessments are alternative ways students can display their knowledge of the course material.  Performance -based assessments ask students to solve an authentic problem using data and research. Students have to think critically, communicate effectively and defend their answer.  This process is far more rigorous than a multiple choice test that measures the content students have memorized.

As SOL reform continues at the state level, with an emphasis on performance-based assessments, we must change our approach to teaching These changes are sparking the debate with educators over the importance of students learning content and concepts, versus developing the critical skills needed in today’s global society to be informed and involved citizens.  While knowing facts from subject areas has value, student success beyond school will be measured by how effective they are in pursuing goals and being motivated to do their best.

In Tony Wagner’s book, Most Likely to Succeed, he refers to the model developed in 1893 by the Committee of Ten that was convened to define the purpose of education.  The 1893 Model was designed to jump through hoops, cover content, and sort/weed out students.  Unfortunately, this model has not changed substantially since 1893 in many schools. Only recently has the conversation turned to the 21st-Century Model that focuses on discovering passions and purpose, developing critical thinking skills and inspiring inquiry in students. 
Why are many school divisions just now implementing the changes necessary to prepare students for this 21st century model? The answer is easy--our teachers and principals have been forced to focus on preparing students for content specific multiple choice assessments dictated by previous SOL tests.  Teachers will have to adapt to the challenges of implementing performance- based assessments and change their approach to teaching.   Instead of focusing on content recall, teachers must create experiences in which students can work collaboratively to solve relevant, real world problems.  As they adapt, we will focus leaning more on critical thinking skills which will better prepare our students for all life brings their way.  I believe after the initial frustration of change, teachers will release their own creativity and our students will flourish.  Albert Einstein said, “The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution.”

In my next blog, I will share the seven survival skills that Tony Wagner has identified in his recent book, The Global Achievement Gap, as the core competencies any young adult needs in order to do well in our dynamic and innovative world.