I'm not your typical parent in this age of Race to the Top and Common Core Standards. I don't care so much how my kids do on the test, whether they can remember the names of Columbus' three boats (it was three, wasn't it?) or how many AP courses they are going to take in high school. I'm not much concerned with the traditional ways that my kids' school or their teachers are being evaluated. In fact, there's only one question that the folks at my kids' school have to answer for me these days: Are you doing whatever you can to make my children self-directed, self-organized, passionate learners? Answer that one "yes," and I'll be happy.
Unfortunately, no one is measuring schools for that. No one is clamoring at board meetings to focus less on content and standardization and more on a love of learning, of exploration, of real problem-solving and individual student interests. Few are asking schools to actually look at learning differently now, to teach their kids to learn with others from around the world online, to go paperless, and to read and write digitally all in the name of preparing kids for the worlds they are going to be living in rather than the ones we old folks grew up with.
The Real Leadership Test
I think that's the real test of leadership for educators at this moment. Are you in the process of enacting the changes that your students need that no one is asking for? Not the "reform" stuff that the state and federal governments are trying to incentivize you into, but the "transform" piece, the literacies and skills that your students need to lead successful lives in the 21st century that right now few tests assess—skills like the ability to publish to global audiences, to collaborate and create with others half a world away at all hours of the day, and to tell stories in multimedia. In other words, are you seeing the learning world for what it is, not what it was, and are you helping your students prosper in a world where two billion teachers are at their fingertips?
No doubt, many schools face huge barriers when it comes to those types of changes. Their students don't have the technology, and in many cases, it's more about making sure they are clothed and fed than getting them connected. And for every school, we still need to make sure our students "pass the test" and aspire to get over whatever graduation and college acceptance hurdles are in their path. But in the words of one of my favorite superintendents these days, Lisa Brady at Hunterdon Central (N.J.) Regional High School, "We have to do both." We have to make sure our students "succeed" by the traditional measures, but we also have to make sure they have the skills and literacies to navigate the social, online learning spaces they are going to be inhabiting well into their adulthood. What choice do we have?
At Hunterdon Central, under Lisa's guidance, change looks like this: Within the next three years, every one of her 3,200 students will have technology in hand. To take full advantage of that reality, the vast majority of classes will be inquiry-based, and they will be grounded in the social online tools like blogs and social bookmarks and others that more relevantly reflect their learning realities. And Lisa's teachers will know what it's like to learn for themselves in these global networks as well. It's a journey of change coming to fruition.
So you won't find many parents like me asking you to do both—at least not right now. But as the learning and information world continues to transform itself into this always-on, always-connected, always-learning place, there will be more of me, I can promise you. And we'll be asking how you and your schools are changing—really changing—to make sure our kids can pass the daily test of learning in the 21st century.
Will Richardson is an author and educator who also blogs about teaching and learning at weblogg-ed.com.