Again, it’s been too long since I last posted. But since spring break, the school year gets wild and crazy, then summer hits, and it’s time for a different type of work. I always look forward to summer for so many reasons, but one of the biggest is the TIME and opportunities to reflect. John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.” How do I reflect as a wife, mom of 2 boys, daughter, and as a principal of a large middle school in a progressive school district? I do this by reading and writing and pondering after I read. During the school year, I may get through one or two educational books…if I’m lucky! I most definitely have the desire, but the energy and other priorities usually take precedence. So summer is filled with a “to read” list a mile long, and I never get through all of it. So far this summer, with only 3 weeks left before teachers return (eeeekkkkk!!!!!!!!), I have read 3 nonfiction books about education and one young adult fictional book. Of all of these books, George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset has been my absolute favorite. I want the entire world of educators to go read it! I’m even going to do something totally out of my comfort zone and write an Amazon book review, because, get this, the author himself (rock star!!!) asked me to on Twitter. Now, THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of “social” media.
This is my warmup to that book review, with some additional details that I found quite powerful, and I wanted to share in the best way I knew how. This is an excerpt from the final pages of this amazing book, but don’t fret, this is not a spoiler alert.
“We have always celebrated our top academic students and touted them as being successful, but sometimes they walk out of school only being great at the game of school and not much else. We can be so much more as educators, a fact that Erica Goldson shared in her very powerful high school valedictorian speech in 2010:
I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent then my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition, a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared. We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special. Every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation rather than memorization, for creativity rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.”
I share this with you to not only capture your attention, as it did for me majorly, but to make you really think. How can we get out of this cycle of crazy that our educational system is currently STUCK in due to accountability gone wild? Please don’t ever misunderstand me on this, I believe accountability is important. But our current testing system is absolutely ridiculous for children. ABSOLUTELY. I don’t know how it is in other states, but in North Carolina, testing is out of control. Need an example? I am honored to serve in a diverse middle school full of 850 hormonally driven teenagers that simply want to be amazing. The state of North Carolina mandates that all state tests must be given in the last 10 days of school. Ok. Sure. No problem. The good part about this expectation is that the importance of tests keeps our students’ attention span in these final days. (I know some states have their “end of year” tests in March or April, so I’m definitely thankful for this piece of our legislation.) BUT, my typical 6th grader takes 4 tests in those last 10 days, and each test is minimally 90 minutes in length. The average 8th grader has the same number of tests. Ok, cool. What if your child receives accommodations under an IEP (individualized education plan for exceptional children)? They still take that same amount of tests – and the SAME tests, but with certain accommodations. What about an honors student in the 8th grade? Check it. Our honors/gifted students have 7 state tests in the final 10 days of school! Yes, I said 7. How does this work for the success of a student ranging on average from age 12-14? Would you want YOUR child showing his/her knowledge on this many tests in the final days of school? And don’t even get me started on 3rd grade… 9 year old children. This was not the purpose of my post today.
My purpose is to share with you a book that can truly change your mindset about how to create innovative mindsets in today’s education systems. I’ve beat my head against the wall so many times about how to do this when we have such standardized measures and practices that occur because of current accountability systems. I’ve always wondered how you do what’s right for individual children in a personalized world with standardized measures. How do you allow students the opportunity to really learn? Not just recite and “do tests” as the incredibly insightful Erica Goldson shares. This book will teach you how to think differently. Gouros himself states, “If we only teach students the curriculum, we have failed them.” But he goes on to say, “I believe you’ll find that small change may be enough to get things moving in a new and better direction.”
This book is structured into 3 parts: Innovation in Education; Laying the Groundwork; and Unleashing Talent. Without going into too much detail, I want you to know that there is some philosophy, as that’s important. BUT there are so many concrete and relevant ideas and suggestions! This is why I love the book so much, as to have these “real” ideas is a rarity. I felt like my educator toolbox expanded after reading this, and that was a wonderful feeling. I cannot wait to initiate these mindset changes beginning August 17th! Couros says that the book is “not meant to give answers but to provoke questions.” Yes, it makes you think and ask, but it also gives so many ideas. If you’re an educator, please read it. I promise I’m not getting any kickback, (LOL) I just want to share a great resource. And, I sincerely hope all of my sons’ educators read this book, which is why I have the picture of Liam, my oldest and going into 4th grade, with the book. Liam and Luke are my inspiration every day to be a better person and better educator, so I want them to have classrooms where their teachers don’t teach them how to take a test. I want their teachers to help develop their passions and grow in their learning and challenge them to think and create, and create, and create.