Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Heart of Learning

As the new school year approaches for my school district and community, I can't help but revisit the fundamental values of education.  At the heart of what we (parents, teachers, administrators) want our children to be able to do is learn, right?  We want desperately for our students to learn not only about academics and social behaviors but also about themselves as young citizens in our communities; local, national and global.  We want our children to learn concepts, skills, and behaviors in hopes that someday they will find their passion and be prepared for success.  We want our children to be happy, curious little humans that grow up to become engaged, knowledgeable citizens that make our world a better place.

I spent a day with our district leadership and parent leaders from (almost) all ten of our district schools to have an open discussion about priorities for our students.  The formal name for this event was parents and teachers talking together or PT3.  The forum was an opportunity for us to brainstorm priorities in student success, explore our thinking in open dialogue, and organize our values into thematic strands.  There were two questions we aimed to answer: How do we as a community define student success?  How do we as a community work together to ensure success for all students?  The initial brainstorms took place with educators and parents meeting in separate rooms and returning to a whole to share priorities.  To summarize the entire day into our shared priorities really gets at the heart of what we want for all our children and students.  We agreed that we define student success as children that are skilled thinkers and intrinsically motivated.  We agreed that we can work together as a community to ensure these priorities by establishing strong school/family partnerships and maintaining consistent standards and expectations for all children.  I'd like to think these are the priorities for many school communities around the globe.  These are of course ideals in an ever-changing, rapidly growing world.

But what was missing?  Student voice.  Teacher voice.  Or was it?  When a community possesses the same values, aims to achieve common goals, and works to ensure the success of all its members, do titles really matter?  Yes, learning is messy, very messy and the roles of teachers, administrators and parents can jumble up the whole process with a single misunderstanding or miscommunication.  But how powerful is the learning for our children when we all see the same vision, work toward the same goals, AND empower our students with skills and resources?  When we as educators embrace an open forum for communication with parents we enhance the learning process for all our children.  We help parents understand that teachers, REAL teachers, look at their children as more than test scores and standards.  Real teachers embrace their students by name and learn about who they are and what they want to become. Teaching happens when a child is ready to learn and most children become ready to learn when they trust the person they call teacher.  Everyone has a teacher they remember.  I bet you can think of one right now.  Did you trust them?  How did they go about earning your trust?  I can imagine there is any number of answers to these questions.  But I digressed.

Great educators, and great people, have a strong connection between their head and their heart.  They are able to connect their beliefs and values with action and conviction.  Children see that and learn from it, whether we realize it or not.  When we surround our students with great people who are motivated to engage and poised to inspire, incredible things can happen. I am excited for a new school year because the school and district I work in has given an opportunity for parents, teachers, and administrators to focus on what's really at the heart of learning--our children.