For all my educational career I’ve been haunted by the notion that every student can learn and be wildly successful, that every student has just as powerful a mind as every other student, but that each student’s mind is unique. This uniqueness is the foundation of our world, providing a nearly endless array of deep learnings, great endeavors, and worthwhile pursuits. There is truly something for everyone and everyone for something.
It is with these words I start most of the opportunities to speak that have been provided me this year as MASA’s Superintendent of the Year. For this article I thought I’d write a flavor of the words I’ve shared.
Now compare this picture of how our world works to our current educational system which has chosen a subset of all our world’s largeness and said this is what a successful human knows, this is what it means to be prepared for future success, something that is true for some but not all of our students, and so by default our system has chosen who will likely find themselves in school and others who often find mostly struggle.
Now this isn’t just a problem for students, it’s a grave issue for us as a people. Our world is vast, deep and complex, needing an incredible array of talents, skills and passions to thrive. Even the most comprehensive school system caters to a relatively narrow band of strengths. If you are a student who finds in school things you are passionate about, things you have a talent for, you will probably do well. If your worthy purpose lies outside of school you will probably get little support for it while in school.
I continue my talk, challenging attendees who have come from a wide array of organizations, from educational groups, public boards, policy-makers, educators, and people from business and industry.
In short, our system virtually guarantees a significant number of our students find nothing like success in school, some of whom struggle through most all their school career, while others who seemingly do fine, giving us little trouble, never finding their spark, their purpose, their reason to get up in the morning to race off to school.
For our system of schooling was not designed to support or even necessarily know the strengths of all of our students. It’s a system that steals from them the agency, time, space and support needed to develop their unique, worthy purpose.
Usually by now the room has gone very quiet, people are looking intently, wondering where I am going and how far I will go. I continue by giving them some hope sharing the work of myself and my colleagues.
That is why so many school systems are dreaming a different dream, creating a new future for education, one that makes a break from the current system. At its heart it’s a dream to personalize the education of every student, or better said, to provide them the skills and opportunity to personalize their own learning. Creating a student centered/student led learning environment that helps each student find out who they are as a learner, what their highest aspirations are, helping them develop the skills and abilities needed to create their own future is the great work of our time.
Finally I attempt to wrap everything up in a closing statement that both restates the problem and gives hope and direction for the future.
It is crystal clear that our current system cannot be made to serve all students in this way. It is the system that fails us, not the people in the system. It is the answer to the question “how is it vast numbers of powerful, professional, caring adults have worked so hard for decades to bring equity and excellence to all students and yet so little has changed in regard to student outcomes?” Our system was designed to be inequitable, it was designed to sort and select kids, it was designed to have winners and losers and it will defy all attempts to fundamentally change it.
The good news is, we can create and are creating a new system of education that is equitable by design, one that helps every student discover their own worthy purpose and reach their highest aspirations by design. This system does not come from the current but must be created anew. It is the work that gets many of us racing off to school each morning.
Thanks again for this opportunity to represent all the great educational leaders of MASA. It has been an honor of a lifetime.