Dr. Thomas Butler, superintendent of Penn-Trafford School District, guest blogs today about the importance of Conversations.
“I have spoken of a thousand points of light . . . . We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding.” George H.W. Bush
When President Bush included this phrase in his 1989 inaugural address, he was hoping to convey a sense of shared service for the betterment of society. Educational institutions in general, and public education in particular, are perfectly suited to reach the worthy goal set forth by President Bush. I want to discuss the thousand points of light that are being lit in the Penn-Trafford School District.
At the classroom level, Penn-Trafford has started to see the glimmers of light that will create an innovative educational experience for our students. We have teachers starting to individualize instruction and curriculum for students; no longer is it good enough to teach students in “batches.” There are classrooms where the students are the focus of learning. Teachers are becoming “guides on the side” with students guiding their own instruction. In one of my favorite quotes, a teacher told me that a lesson he recently completed with his class was, “the best lesson I have ever done,” and this from an experienced teacher who has completed thousands of lessons!
These are all examples of teachers operating on the “edge of the box.” (It is important to note that the teachers are not outside the box, where possibilities sometimes fade into a jungle of too many possibilities, but on the edge of the box with one foot firmly in their reality and the other foot searching for the “adjacent possible.”)
The most important question for school leaders is how can we begin the process of having a thousand points of light shining in our school districts? The answer is simple — one conversation at a time.
Conversations serve as the light switch for Penn-Trafford’s thousand points of light. In Penn-Trafford, the recent educational conversations have centered around two questions: “What is great teaching?” and “What is great learning?” These two questions have served as a basis for hundreds of conversations about education throughout the school district. We have found that conversations can spark the creativity and innovation within our teachers and staff.
Although these questions are great educational conversation starters, we sometimes find ourselves in situations where the conversation needs to go deeper into the topic of learning and teaching. In this case, the challenge becomes how to find relevant information from our local situation that will help drive a great conversation. I have used information gleaned from the “informal” sphere, such as community meetings and individual conversations with people. I have also used information from more “formal” means, such as surveys. Penn-Trafford uses K12 Insight to help us mine information from all stakeholders, which helps us learn about the school district.
Recently, the district and K12 Insight conducted a survey about the use of technology in educational settings. We surveyed parents, students and teachers to gain information about how they use technology in their lives, and how they envision technology being incorporated into education. Two interesting points from the survey were:
- Most teachers (84%), students (94%), and parents (92%) who responded believe that teaching and learning materials should be available to students at any time, day or night.
- Most teachers (85%) and parents (89%) indicated that technology provides essential tools for instruction. Most students (93%) indicated that technology helps them learn.
We can look at this information in many different ways and use it to drive purchasing and curriculum decisions. More importantly for me, this information will serve as a way to start conversations about 22nd Century learning in our school district. For this reason, this information is invaluable as it will spark hundreds of conversations that will lead to innovation and student learning.