Connecting All Kids: #FutureReady

IMG_0032

I am so excited as I arrive at the airport Tuesday to travel to Washington D.C. to join a group of thought leaders at the United States Department of Education’s ConnectED Summit. This day is doubly special because it is also my daughter Audrey’s 16th birthday, and she is traveling with me to Washington.

I met Lisa Snyder, a superintendent from Minnesota, right away Wednesday morning while we were hailing a cab for our drive to the White House. While standing in line with other superintendents from across the nation, the anticipation and enthusiasm is evident and I feel like an eighth-grader on a school field trip. You can sense the excitement.

As a social studies teacher and life-long educator, experiencing the history of the White House is a highlight of my career. Many of the historical events I taught took place here! It is truly incredible to know that Abraham Lincoln walked the halls and grounds of this building. The security is phenomenal; it’s the safest I have ever felt in my life.

Watching the President stride into the room, shaking hands with all of the superintendents sitting on the aisle, is a moving experience. As he starts his speech, it is clear that he is committed to connecting ALL students and educators to technology. In fact, he set a goal that 99 percent of the country’s students will be connected to the Internet within five years. This goal, coupled with increasing digital learning opportunities, will help close achievement gaps between affluent and less affluent learners in our country. It will also close access gaps and develop equity among all students.

The President spoke about how learning is changing and that today’s classroom is not the classroom we remember. Learning today must be relevant, engaging, and infused with both critical thinking opportunities and real-world learning experiences. If not, we risk students dropping out or, even if they stay in school, merely going through the motions.

The President sees investment in education as an economic driver if the United States is to remain a global leader in research and innovation. This investment in our children is seen as a path to the middle class where everyone can participate in the American dream. However, for that to occur, our schools must prepare students for future jobs that will require critical thinking, the ability to learn and the capacity to build positive relationships while solving complex problems.

Finally, the President celebrated educators and thanked us for our dedication and commitment to our students. He asked that we continue to work hard as learning transforms in the digital age. Secretary Duncan also commended teachers and principals for their work. He said, and this is paraphrased, “Technology will not make teaching obsolete, but teaching will evolve as a profession into blended learning where great teachers using technology will take kids farther than they ever thought they could go.” Secretary Duncan also said that the Department of Education will help by releasing a professional learning tool kit, expanding funding for e-rate to assist with infrastructure needs, and developing accountability systems to measure outcomes. Please go to www.tech.ed.gov and www.futurereadyschools.org to learn how you can join this effort to make ALL students future ready. Also, please watch this video of President Obama talking about all kids being future ready in the country.

The good news is that District 66 is well positioned to lead this initiative. Our current strategic plan aligns with the ideas discussed in Washington. We provide access to digital learning across our District on a daily basis, but we also must collaborate with other civic leaders to provide connectivity outside of the school day so all our students can continue to learn in a 24/7 environment. It is my opinion that equity will improve and students will benefit greatly from this effort to connect learners to digital content through the Internet as they develop, with our help, their own pathway to success.

Our innovative and creative staff and supportive community are leading the way toward a transformation of learning in our District. After this meeting, I know that District 66 is a leader in our state, region, and nation in this effort to blend learning using technology as a tool to close achievement gaps and engage all students. Educators truly do work in the future. They encourage each student’s strengths and passions, which leads to success and a lifetime of learning and of contributing to their communities and nation. It is an exciting time to work in public education, and I have never been prouder to be an educator than I am today.

It is hard to leave the ConnectED Summit because of the “powerful learning” taking place between and among the many participants. As I leave the White House, and its history and power, I look back at the building and am verklempt. I want to stay here, but I cannot wait to get back to Westside where we will continue our great work and where we have the power to change the world… one student at a time. The following video illustrates that commitment.

Now I’m off to celebrate Audrey’s birthday… again!!

Blane

The Future of Learning

During the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, amid the chaos in my home with my grandchildren, my children, and their spouses, it occurred to me once again how learning has changed since I was a child.  I’m keenly aware of the pace of this change across generations from my 31-year-old son, to my 15-year-old daughter, to my 2-year-old grandson. The evolution of learning from static to dynamic is akin to the evolution of yesterday’s Encyclopedia Britannica to today’s Wikipedia. Technological advances are transforming us from passive learners to active learners.

Information is everywhere and is available all the time, fueled by the passion and interest of our learners. My children download recipes for a delicious meal or watch a video that teaches them how to bake a pie or prepare sweet potatoes.  Learning is becoming more personal because technology provides information instantaneously.  This instant access to knowledge is pushing the education profession in directions we thought were not possible just a few years ago.

PK-12 education truly sits at a crossroads and is in the midst of deciding its future. We must remain relevant by designing educational opportunities that embrace the technology and help our students understand what they are learning. We must guide them as they apply their knowledge and show them how to behave ethically with large amounts of information.  Today, teachers must be conduits of learning, instead of the sole purveyors of knowledge. They must engage all students to become independent learners.

I hope we take this moment to shake off the legacy of the factory model where we sort and select kids. I hope we design a future where we support our teachers and administrators as they transform our schools from a “one size fits all” to a collaborative, problem-solving environment where students think critically and globally.

We must support teachers as they help students discover the joy of learning through real-world opportunities. As educators, we must share their excitement for learning. We must give students nurturing and supportive environments where they can create, solve problems, make mistakes, and find their voice under the watchful eye of a professional educator.

At Westside, we are developing programming to help students direct their own learning PK to 12th grade, through approaches such as school-wide enrichment, internships, and possible academies. These approaches allow students to understand the relevance of school and how classroom content applies to the real world.  We want to develop opportunities where students can identify interests and see a glimpse of a possible future, one that is meaningful to them and fuels their passions.