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by Wesley Fryer July 24, 2006

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I listened to many EXCELLENT podcasts in my 3000+ miles of driving to and from Wyoming and Montana the last couple of weeks, but the #1 podcast for me had to be the “Schlechty Center/Texas Standard-Bearer Network: Making Engagement Central” posted by Texas Association of School Administrators from their 2006 Midwinter conference.

Barbara Brown of Lewisville ISD (in the Dallas area) told me briefly about the Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform back in February when I presented “Open the Door – Conversation, Complexity, and Messy Assessment” at the Education Service Center in Fort Worth. I need to purchase and read Dr. Schlechty’s book “Working on the Work: An Action Plan for Teachers, Principals, and Superintendents”— it is one of several books he has written. The philosophy of the Schlechty Center includes two primary theories: the “theory of change” (PDF) and the “theory of engagement” (PDF). The theories of “disruptive innovations” and “sustaining innovations” are right on target. The five basic assumptions of the work done by the center are:

1. There is an urgent need for dramatic improvement in the performance of America’s public schools.
2. The key to improving the schools is the quality of the work students are provided. To improve the quality of the work students are provided, schools must be organized around students and the work provided to students rather than around adults and the work of teachers.
3. Students are volunteers. Their attendance can be commanded, but their attention must be earned.
4. The changes required to organize schools around students and student work cannot occur unless school districts and communities have or develop the capacities needed to support change- capacities that are now too often lacking in even the best run school districts.
5. Leadership and leadership development are key components to the creation of district-level capacity to support building-level reform.

These ideas resonate closely with the educational philosophies of John Dewey and Paulo Friere that have strongly shaped my own pedagogic creed. They also resonate closely with the principles of educational and societal leadership which I write about fairly frequently. They verify my core belief that teaching is an art, not a science, and the scripted curriculum approach we see in many US school districts today is an insult to the educational “master teachers” we most need to retain in our classrooms.

As we search for answers to the educational challenges students, teachers, administrators and parents face in our educational systems today, Dr. Schlechty offers a compelling vision that resonates with MANY of the beliefs I have about instruction, engagement, and the educational experiences my own children and ALL children across the globe need and deserve in school. If Thomas Friedman in “The World Is Flat” presents a wake-up call for educational reform in the 21st Century economic environment, and Dan Pink offers a vision for what types of skills should be emphasized in “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future”— Phil Schlechty offers a roadmap for how we should respond to the environment in which we find ourselves and the skills we want students to obtain.

Take an hour and listen to what John Horn, Jenny Preston, Jim Hawkins, and J.D. Kennedy shared in February 2006 in this wonderful presentation. These are REAL answers to the REAL problems we face in education. We can’t merely focus on high stakes testing and high stakes accountability in schools: We most move from good to great— and Dr. Schlechty offers a practical pathway to that end.

“Teachers designing experiences for kids which engage them in learning.” That is what we need in education today. Technology can be a powerful tool in that process, but it offers no panacea. What we need is a sea change of pedagogical philosophies, and Schlechty’s encouragement to help teachers “get students to PROFOUND learning” is exactly what we need.

I look forward to learning more about the philosophy and operational recommendations of The Schlechty Center in the weeks and months ahead. I hope we can have schools here in Oklahoma learn about these ideas and implement them. (We don’t have any Standard-Bearer school districts in the state YET.) Dr. Schlechty is waging a struggle for educational reform in practical, powerful, and effective ways, and I want to be part of this solution to our present educational darkness. We don’t need more technocratic regulations– those won’t SAVE or probably even improve education. What we need is tantamount to a cultural sea change, in the way most adults think about and promulgate educational experiences. As John Horn exhorted the audience in this presentation, we need to restore joy back into teaching! And if that is done right, districts will “get the test scores” along with “profound learning!” The “core business” of schools is NOT merely improving student test scores: It is engaging students in the educational process. Students are the CUSTOMERS, not the products of our schools. Our bottom line may be student achievement, but we can’t treat schools like most businesses, because as Jim Hawkins observes– most businesses are not that innovative in the way they are managed and run, and worthy of replication. I’m ready to not just ride this wave of change, but invite it to come to my state and neighborhood– and help others get on board with this change paradigm.

Teachers should NOT primarily be “planners and performers.” They should be “leaders and designers,” as John Horn noted in this presentation.

I’ll post more about other podcasts I listened to recently and found worthwhile in upcoming days, but for now you can find all the podcasts I subscribe to on my Podnova subscription listing. This includes the latest episodes of all the podcasts to which I’m subscribed. I recommend that you start with this podcast about the Schlechty Center, its philosophy, and its operational suggestions for bringing about the educational reforms all our schools need. Listen to three innovative and visionary Texas superintendents talk about the dramatic and positive changes they are seeing with student and teacher engagement in the learning process as a result of their teachers’ involvement with the Schlechty Center and its agenda for educational reform!

Note: Posting articles from other sources does not necessarily indicate support for the ideas contained within.