Knowing vs. Knowing How

This was one of those great days at school. It was a Professional Development day for us, which was to centre around working on our Student Success Plan. It is actually the only PD day that we have to work on local needs and so I wanted to make sure that we used it to focus our year a bit.

Our board has been trying to find an in to the 21C Learning ideals and it looks like the best way is to rethink and start to talk much more openly and purposely about Learning Skills. I love this move in thought and I think that it is high time that we started this talk. I think it is a long time coming that people in education start to consider what we are actually doing and if we are on the right track. I remember, as a student, wondering what these lessons and facts would have to do with the rest of my life. I was never all that comfortable with math or science, (still I did well, but there was not the same level of comfort), and I could not see a future for myself that would require me knowing much about Finite Mathematics or Genetic Code. I could not see the relevance of the content, but I studied anyway because I trusted in the system and thought that if the system said I needed to know, then I should know. I have yet to come upon a situation where those lessons would be important to me and I can pretty much guarantee with the internet, I won’t ever find that situation.

I trusted the system but the truth was that the system did not know what was best for me. In fact, the truth is that the system was never designed to give me what was best for me. That content driven system was designed to teach me a skill: the ability to listen to, retain and repeat information. That system was designed to deliver as much info to me as possible, understanding that I would only retain about 10% of it, and then my passion or interest would determine what 10% that was. Imagine that: a system that accepts a 10% success rate! And I was a straight A student!

But this is simply not good enough any more and the hope is that Content become nothing more than a context for the development and exercise of skills. We can find out info, or learn how to do just about anything with the power and reach of the internet and social media, but what these tools cannot teach our children is how to think and behave collaboratively, creatively, critically and then share that with others. This is what school has to become. As Will Richardson says in one of the videos we watched at our session today, we have to do schools different, not better. We have to consider what our end goal is and it cannot be a test score.

There was great discussion about this including staff working on defining the different learning skills so that we could have a common language to share as well as actually assessing the learning skills of the administration for a bit of a light hearted break. Easily the best part of the plenary session though was a letter that my VP Bernie Burns read from a frustrated teacher. Below is a video presentation of that letter by the teacher but I truly think that my Bernie read it better.

The letter talks about the “main event” of school being the challenges that all of us face and then actually facing them. It is about learning the best ways to handle yourself and to above all, never quit. It talks tough at times, but the overall sentiment is one of caring and love. Very powerful and when Bernie read it to me a couple of days ago, I knew it would work, but what he didn’t tell me was that we was going to also read something that he wrote in response to the letter. I have no video of this and perhaps that is best as it will forever be something that was just for our staff, but it was without a doubt the most powerful bit of verse that I have heard at a staff event. Not often can an administrator completely capture the total attention of 100+ staff and then get an ovation for the effort afterwards! It was great because it was personal, courageous and honest. It was exactly what the staff needed and I know it lead to a great afternoon of departmental sharing and collaboration.

It lead one teacher to voice an idea of having a platform for teachers to write about themselves so that the staff could better know their peers and their colleagues. I am going to consider what the best venue for this is and perhaps bend the ear of some of my staff, but I saw today what true leadership is all about. I had a full day of work and discussion planned out but I know that Bernie’s willingness to be vulnerable and honest was the catalyst for the day and I can only hope that the reaction leads to a continued discussion about learning skills and the best way to “do school different”.

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