Today I read about nextgen schools and deeper learning. Fascinating, interesting, and transformative. I love thinking about transformation. In essence, it is everywhere, all the time, right in front of us. We just don’t always notice. It’s easy to transform a messy room into a clean room–we see our progress almost instantly. Our children transform one day to the next, from babies to toddlers to roll-the-eyes teenagers to hopefully one day becoming productive, creative adults who impact their community, but that takes time, lots of time, and lots of patience. Transformation, I believe, is in the fabric of this world. If we reflect at all on the story of humanity, we can see that transformation is a key player in the plot. Sometimes a bit more shadowy, making the story all the more interesting.
In my own quest for transformative education, I started to make a list of what I needed to think about and do when building an educational program. I’m not interested in jumping on the best trend without thoughtful process. I’d rather think through sustainability. Transformative sustainability, maybe.
Technology Tools. What do I have? What do I need? What do I want? What do my students know? What do they have? What do they need? What is next for all of us? Oh, where is my magic crystal ball?? Technology tools are more than just expensive pieces of paper and pencils. In the hands of students, they can be used in transformative learning experiences.
Research. I’m a research fanatic. Edudemic. 21st Century Fluency Project. TeachThought. Edutopia. I go to my “go to” people (too many to list) and see what they say. Then I process. What is working? What research is relevant, specifically for the personality and mission of my school and the students? I sometimes feel like a hunter gatherer.
Ask Questions. Sometimes these are not directed at anyone in particular. I just think questions are key in the process of planning, designing, making, developing. We want our students to ask questions because it is essential in the learning process. I’ve often heard speakers say students should ask more questions than give answers. Questions, and often their answers and subsequent action, help visions materialize.
Non-negotiables. Identify and understand my non-negotiables. Directives from administration, parameters of charters, money/space limitations, needs of community. I have found over the years that non-negotiables are typically few and far between, especially when a new program is being built. But the more I understand the organization, the better I can design a program that not only fits their needs/wants but is sustainable and “growable.”
Structure. Structure is not a bad word. Even in the wild, there is some structure. But instead of concrete walls and fortresses, a natural line of trees works well. Maybe a defined perimeter at least to begin. Structure, or maybe I should say framework, takes the ethereal and gives it definition, making it more tangible. And for me, that provides motivation and security. I can’t stay 30,000 feet forever. I’ll run out of gas.
Flexibility. The word of the century. Be flexible. Yep. It’s necessary and should be in everyone’s survival kit. All programs need the “oxymoron” of structure and flexibility. Like Legos or Lincoln Logs or anything we would build with—I would say as children, but I know many adults who like to build with Legos. Flexibility provides opportunity for excellence. I’ve learned over too many years of mistakes that staying rigid and prideful settles at mediocrity. We are not intended to be stagnant individuals, therefore programs (and their builders) should always be growing and changing and…well…flexing.
Observe and Reflect. These go hand in hand with research, but push out to the environment, to people, to institutions, to human behavior. How do people learn? How do they connect? What are my surroundings and how can I use them in my classroom? What is that business or organization or person of influence doing that could partner with my program and my students? The list could go on and on, but it starts with observing and then reflecting. A little more hunting and gathering, but this time we actually enjoy the fruit of our labor and sit down to a feast and look at all we’ve collected.
Randomness. This is my “out-of-the-box” thinking. Randomness stimulates creativity. Creative thinking is essential for building an excellent program.
Mosaic. For as long as I can remember, I have loved the beauty of mosaic art. So many possibilities with color, shape, layout, image. The same goes for building a program. In St. Louis, where I lived for most of my life, there exists the City Museum, truly the most fantastically creative museum ever. And the first floor is one big mosaic design with slides and crawlspaces and trees and well, you would really need to see it to believe it. I’ve always been inspired by this space. And as I approach this program, I need a mosaic artist mindset. There is vision, but I’m not putting together a puzzle but rather a work of art, filled with color, texture, size and shape, so the design is flexible.
This list is not exhaustive nor is it in any particular order. I gave myself the acronym of T.R.A.N.S.F.O.R.M. and thought–what are my priorities? What do I need to embrace and integrate into my process?
So it begins.