Yesterday we participated in an all day Summit on Next Generation High Schools. The Summit had representatives from states all across the country. Here is the White House Fact Sheet on Next Generation High Schools. Additionally, here is a document that describes strategies to take when creating a Next Generation High School: Using Evidence to Create Next Generation High Schools.
We were able to hear how school districts are beginning to redesign their high schools to truly fit the needs and demands of our current student populations. Some redesign has been in the form of charter schools, some has been in the form of policy changes, and others have been districts committing to no longer maintaining the status quo. Our morning session was captured by the White House; see the Youtube video below.
There were student speakers as well that were able to speak about their journey through both traditional high schools and their most recent experiences in redesigned high schools. A major takeaway from all of the students was that their new experiences were much more relevant and engaging because they did not focus on content in isolation or through low rigor tasks. Instead these students spoke about their experiences in thematic schools and project based learning environments that are teaching them problem solving, questioning, and application of new ideas.
We too can make these shifts and changes in our schools. We don't need to wait for mandates or directives. We need to really take a look at how we are guiding our teachers and supporting our students. Give your teachers freedom to present their content in meaningful contexts. Give your teachers the ability to take risks and venture out away from traditional approaches to the curriculum. If we want to ensure that our students obtain a high school diploma that truly means they are prepared for college and career, then we need to ENSURE that our students are not just merely turning in work and passing exams. We need to ENSURE that our students are developing skills that transcend the classroom and equip each of them with the ability to see a problem and devise a plausible and executable solution. And...we must continue to BUILD relationships. Each of the student speakers spoke about a pivotal and influential adult in their lives that have supported them on their journey and given them the strength to succeed. Examples were one student's foster mom, another was a mentor from the community.
It is imperative that we are telling EACH of our students they are valued and that they CAN and WILL be successful. It will not always be an easy road, but we must provide the supports and structures for our students to succeed. We CANNOT allow any student to fail in our school system. We CANNOT make excuses. We need to COMMIT and use our current resources in the most efficient manners possible. Don't be that leader or that teacher that does something day after day just because it is, "How it has always been done." Instead, be that leader or teacher that does something because you see that it will impact a student and provide a better experience for him/her than they had the day before.
It is so important that each of you finds the strength inside of you to really see what is happening in your classrooms and on your campus. Do you see a school where each of your students are excited to come to school and that you have 100% confidence that in each of your classrooms real learning is taking place? If you need to make changes, then make them. Don't wait for someone else to do it. Be the VISIONARIES that I know you ARE!!
Continue to be innovative, creative, and a model of excellence!