There was a time in my life when I attempted to ignore the gravitational pull of my vocation, but I know now that the outcome was inevitable. I remember the day the die was cast. Mrs. Johnson, try as she might, could not make a math concept clear to one of my 5th grade classmates. I knew what she meant, and I knew what he heard, and I knew the conflicting thoughts were hurtling toward an intersection of despair and frustration. It wasn’t my place, but I just had to intervene. The subsequent success left my classmate and my teacher relieved, and left me with the unspoken knowledge that I would one day have a classroom of my own.
That day in Mrs. Johnson’s class was the first time in my recollection that I considered instructional best practice, but it has remained a focus of mine ever since. Thirty-four years later, I find myself discussing this very thing with the staff at Zionsville Middle School. Instrutional best practice has changed quite a bit since my days at Lindbergh Elementary School. Conceptually what was good practice then is still good practice today. The difference is the number of tools that currently exists to allow teachers and students to use these practices as never before.
It’s an exciting time to be an educator. With 21st century tools, the means of getting to the minds of students are more numerous than ever before, and yet precision is enhanced as well, making improvements in both quality and quantity. Access to the Internet provides a window to the world for our students, and authenticity — which Mrs. Johnson had to manufacture as best she could — abounds. Collaboration, always an educational goal, is enhanced by giving access to documents to multiple users, allowing for multiple editors and the ability to view changes in real-time. The audience for student work, an essential source for student motivation and purpose, is expanded beyond the eyes of the teacher. Access to computers has fundamentally, for the better, changed the what, where, and how of education. Exciting times, indeed.
It’s also a trying time to be an educator, however. Media and politicians seem particularly interested in highlighting any shortcoming within the realm of public education. Taxes, high-stakes testing, budget shortfalls, accountability, and failing schools dominate the discourse. Funny, the word “learning” is rarely part of the discussion. That is a pity. Even worse, none of the things listed above really has anything to do with children or their learning experience.
Our 1:1 program is not the way of the future, as many would describe it, but the way of the present — and even then it was a few years late in its arrival. But more and more I’m beginning to understand that we are making a mistake in calling it a “program.” It is not a program with a step-by-step procedure or a start date and an end point. It is not a separate curriculum. It is using best practice. It is using every tool available to make a child’s learning experience the most it can be. It is exposure to authentic and varied materials. It is developing a way of thinking and problem-solving not possible with traditional tools. It is education as it should be, and any other way is inferior. Our task, ultimately, is to prepare students for their future, not for our past.
And so I find myself in a similar position as that little boy in the 5th grade classroom. The potential exists that children could be denied the tools necessary for their 21st century education — the education of today. Every survey that we have ever done indicates that our teachers, students and parents believe that the 1:1 environment is more effective and preferable. Proliferation of 1:1 instruction for ZCS, however, has met some opposition, and the future of expansion hangs in the balance at the next school board meeting: May 24 at 6 pm. As I have professed, I am an educator, not a political activist. As such, I don’t call for protests or demonstrations, but I do strongly suggest that parents advocate for the best possible instructional experience available for their children. If you have a thought on the matter, do not hesitate to share it with me, our superintendent, or our board members.
Lindbergh Elementary closed its doors over 20 years ago. No doubt it produced several future educators. The same is true for ZMS. My only hope is that the ones chosen to follow this line of work do so after being inspired by best practice, not out of frustration with bad examples.