Our Highest Priority

Continuous Delivery of Meaningful Learning

"Our highest priority is to satisfy the needs of children and their families through early and continuous delivery of meaningful learning."

There are several important things going on here.

First, this is our highest priority: to satisfy the needs of children and their families. But to do that, we have to provide early and continuous delivery of learning.

There can be no other higher priorities than this. And yet, we know we are challenged every day to stand by this. School, it seems, is a never-ending gauntlet of competing priorities.

Next, let's keep in mind that meeting this priority requires the early and continuous delivery of learning. This means we can't waste the first week of school or the last. It also means that we have to engage all of our students carefully and keep them moving forward on a regular basis.

Obviously, testing—even quarterly pre-tests or semester finals—are far too slow. Testing of any kind won't work because it takes so much time to administer and score.

The best approach, then, is observation while kids are in the act of pursuing meaningful learning.

Many people will take issue with the word "meaningful" because it can't be defined in quantitative terms. But perhaps it makes more sense to take issue with the idea that meaningful learning should be quantified at all.

If we accept that the only learning that can be valued is the learning we can place numeric value on, I think we've got a problem. I think, in this type of world, schooling becomes unnecessarily narrow, even dangerously so.

By contrast, using meaning as our guide leads us to simple but important questions:

  • What does the student find meaningful?
  • What does the teacher find meaningful?
  • What do parents find meaningful?

These are all answerable—on a kid-by-kid, family-by-family, and teacher-by-teacher basis. True, we have to treat people as individuals in order to do this, and we have to allow them to have certain important interactions. But Agile tells us to value individuals and interactions. And here is one case where doing so has the potential to produce great rewards.

Beyond the personal level of schooling, there is an equivalent set of macro-educational questions:

  • What does the principal find meaningful?
  • What does the district find meaningful?
  • What does the state find meaningful?

The state and district are easy to answer for: they find test scores to be most meaningful. But principals are individuals just like teachers, kids, and parents. True, some may lose their jobs over poor test performance. But test scores are probably not what they find most meaningful.

Most principals were teachers once. At some point in their pasts, they cared about kids and families, they had their favorite lessons and units, they were in touch with why they became educators in the first place.

I guarantee it was not test scores.

Around this notion of meaningful learning, and it's delivery as our highest priority, we owe it to ourselves and to our students to have as many conversations as we can. There's a lot of meaningful learning of our own to be done here—and we would do well to pursue it.


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Steve Peha

One of the biggest challenges we face is the challenge of helping kids find their way to meaningful learning experiences. Two factors seem important here: differentiation and choice.

Differentiation is essential because different students are likely to find different things meaningful. To figure out exactly what those things are, choice is probably the most efficient approach.

By letting kids choose some of the work they do—within responsible guidelines—kids have a much better chance of discovering what is meaningful to them. Choice also does the differentiating for us, so we don't have to waste time over a lot of unnecessary planning.

The trend today in education is decidedly against choice. We're locking in a national standardized curriculum that will give teachers fewer choices of what to teach and children fewer choices of what to learn.

We're also taking away the freedom to choose. To anyone who believes that education is an incubator of democratic principles, such a dramatic loss of freedom of choice should be setting off alarm bells.

I wonder why it's not. I wonder what it is about school that makes us all so docile, so willing to lay down our ideals and give away our freedoms.

The world our kids will be heading into will be far more dynamic than the world we're training them for in school. As school becomes more standardized, the world becomes less so. This means that what has been standardized already is likely to be less meaningful to children the farther into the future we go.

The standards our kids will be learning from were crreated several years ago. They won't be fully implemented until 2015. And it will probably 2020 before we have any idea about results. That's roughly 15 years just to find out if one version of a standardized curriculum makes any difference.

In the meantime, the world is spinning faster and faster, leaving our education system grounded, not in what children or families or teachers find meaningful, but in what our government finds meaningful.

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