Guest Blog: Let Us Flourish!
By: Jill Allshouse
Picture this: An economics teacher stands before his class at the chalkboard, reviewing economic terms, bills and tariff acts with his high school students. It is conducted with monotonous expression, out loud, for the entirety of the class. He looks around the room, from student to student, who take excruciating pains to avoid eye contact, steadily looking anywhere in the room except for at their professor.
(This review of the material is reminiscent of my own high school teachers’ review techniques; the glazed eyes, dream-like expressions and drool dripping from one sleeping student’s mouth cause me to flash back to Coach Hindleberg reviewing geometry terms for an upcoming quiz! Sorry, Coach H.)
But back to the scene. The students are steadily looking anywhere in the room except for at their professor. And in the same, tedious voice as he delivered his lecture, he asks, “Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?”
Yep. I was describing a relatively famous scene from the 1986 hit movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This scene has added a quote to our lexicon that will immediately earn a laugh from any true child of the ‘80s.
But as funny as this scene was meant to be, it brings me pain and anger. That’s because it paints a picture of an educational experience which persists today. As an educator for 21 years, I know: This type of “teaching” still occurs in classrooms all across our glorious globe.
Shifting the Teaching Paradigm
When the first U.S. public school was established in Boston, Massachusetts in 1635, the goals it had for its students were much less complex than the goals for students are today. In 1635, schools were preparing students for the three Rs: “read, rite and do rithmatic.” Preparing students for their future meant that they would be able to farm, sew, cook and conduct small business.
Fast forward to today. The majority of jobs the Kindergarten class of 2017 will have in adulthood have not even been created yet. This fact raises many emotions. It causes fear -- and possibly, denial – but hopefully it brings excitement, as well.
As a young, naïve college graduate, I was armed with my degree and certificate to teach and felt I was completely prepared to educate a classroom full of 21 first graders. However, reality set in very quickly. I was completely unprepared! These curious, passionate, rambunctious first graders did not all think the same. They did not all learn in the same manner nor at the same rate. They did not sit still, listen attentively and soak in every word I spoke. This was like herding cats! Some had learning disabilities, some were gifted and advanced, some didn’t speak any English, some were unable to sit for any length of time… and I was flabbergasted.
I was also unafraid to veer off the traditional teacher’s path. I studied, observed, asked questions and learned how to differentiate my class. I was by no means a master teacher, but I was not going to let these little first graders suffer.
I continued to work on my craft and finally, after 10 years in the classroom, I felt like I was “in my groove.” Little did I know that my world was about to be shaken up.
The school district I taught in had hired a new Superintendent. A true visionary. Dr. Jeff Turner arrived in our calm, unruffled school district and upended our worlds. His vision and goal for students was light years ahead of most educational leaders; it was certainly light years ahead of me and my fellow teachers.
Dr. Turner’s message was simple: Sitting in a classroom, listening to a teacher speak all day was not going to prepare our students for the real world. Being able to pass a standardized test was not going to help our students be successful in life. They deserved more. They deserved better. We, as educators, were called to help them reach their potential. Change was the only course of action.
My fellow educators and I began to learn about Project Based Learning, Understanding by Design, Blended Learning, STEM academies, International Baccalaureate programs and Flipped Classrooms, just to name a few. It was an overwhelming time but Dr. Turner’s eye never left the prize, our students. He inspired everyone in our district to realize that we must help our students to flourish! (Incidentally, this vision also propelled our school district to one of the most progressive in the state of Texas. And with almost 1,250 school districts in the Lone Star State, that’s really something, y’all.)
Start with Why
Now, I feel we are at another tipping point. We are finally seeing a movement in education that is pushing for more student-driven learning. Yet time is of the essence to help educators make this shift and learn how to create individualized learning experiences for each student. In my opinion, it begins with our “why.”
Much like Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, I am the eternal optimist. I believe that a shift in education can and will occur. And I love the goal which 9 Billion Schools has set, of ensuring that every student has learning experiences that cater to their specific needs and hopes, talents and dreams. To reach that goal, it’s important to give educators time to rediscover their “why.” Why wake up and teach 21 first graders every day? Why teach high school economics to five classes a day? Why work to prepare students for jobs that don’t even exist yet? A strong foundation rooted in a deep belief and drive to impact the world will lead to progressive, sustainable change.
What excites me most, is that once an educator’s “why” is established, the paths which lead to students’ life-long, life-wide and life-deep learning are broader than they've ever been! Project Based Learning, Problem Based Learning, STEM, STEAM, Blended Learning, Flipped Learning, Understanding by Design, and many other innovative learning frameworks are pathways to deliver experiences which give students a dignified and personalized education. And that is what will lead to their ability to flourish!
The movement has begun. The wheels are turning. Educational organizations, parents, leaders and most importantly, students are pushing for a shift in education. As Malcolm Gladwell states in his book, The Tipping Point, “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.”
You have a gift, I have a gift, we all have a duty. Let us flourish – together!
Jill Allshouse is an educational advocate who is passionate about changing the world one school district at a time. As a consultant for Engage Learning, she trains, coaches and supports school administrators, teachers and parents whose districts, classrooms and children are learning English as a second language. Jill earned a Master’s degree in educational leadership from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Woman’s University. A native Texan who traded her cowgirl boots for snow boots, she currently resides in Adrian, Michigan. You can reach Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.