In the weeks leading up to this Christmas season, I enjoyed several last visits to schools prior to my retirement at the end of December. I was looking for something and, as often happens, we find what we are looking for… In this case, it was gratifying to engage in positive dialogue that highlighted the remarkable work of teachers, administrators, education assistants and other school staff – all the professionals who make the difference for kids every day. These people reminded me how fully we now “get” what the secret sauce is for great schools: they are the places that manage to create the right mix of hope and skill, both of which are essential and neither of which is sufficient on its own.
In those school visits – and in your schools and mine – hope was evident in the clearly shared belief that each of our kids has the necessary curiosity, abilities and talents, either active or latent, to allow him or her to engage, to learn and to be successful. It wasn’t generalized or unfocused hope, though. Colleagues shared stories of their efforts several layers beyond the obvious and the relentless positive energy and skill they commit to connecting with their most resistant students. Our conversation included attention to establishing and maintaining social/emotional learning environments that are productive for kids and for adults. We all work better in positive, safe and hopeful places and we know that where cynicism, anxiety or defeatism reign, failure isn’t far behind. The people I talked to aren’t willing to allow that toxin to invade their space. They understand the life-changing role that education has for every student: for some it supports a move from good to great; for others it reinforces the importance of hard work/resilience/grit as crucial for success; and for another cohort, quality education takes a youngster from surviving to thriving. These professionals “hope” for a better future for all children and they work together to deliver it.
Skill was also front and center as a theme in the visits. It is the other ingredient in the secret sauce. Within a framework of hope and a positive school culture, educators are embracing and adopting the evolving art and science of good teaching, individualized learning and appropriate scaffolding of experiences so kids experience the right blend of high expectations and specific support. A growing interest in neuroscience and all of the uptake of the self-regulation framework are indicators of professional practice that is constantly being refined. Engagement in thoughtful dialogue around the EdPlan indicates that we are now well along the transition from a time when facts and factoids formed curricular essentials and memorization ruled the day. Developing key competencies for life keeps learners (we are all learners) nimble. Essential in combination with the curriculum transformation is our quest for better and more authentic ways to assess learning – light years beyond the old report card reward & punishment retrospective that served to archive for what was rather than to influence what could be. Skilful educators are like professionals everywhere, constantly reviewing and refining their work and connecting with others to share emerging quality practice.
As I left the last of those schools, it was reassuring and energizing to see the best of our education communities and to anticipate what lies ahead for learning and for learners. We get it right when hope and skill mix, resulting in the activation of all the art and science that are foundational to our profession. Exciting times ahead! Wonderful places to be.