Back To School – For Me, That Is
I’ve gone back to school. For the first time in 25 years, I am in a classroom with people and a teacher/leader, getting used to the newness of the people, the lessons and the purpose of it all and anticipating papers, projects and much homework to achieve the doctorate I have set out to pursue these many years after my formative education last began.
It’s ironic. Every year at this back-to-school time since I started the Center for Education Reform (CER) in 1993, I have helped the team consider how best to serve the parents and adults guiding students and young children. That time, like so many things in education, now fluctuates. From southern early August beginnings to year round schools, all while the tried and true northeast still gathers post-Labor Day.
Despite the routine and the preparation, the anticipation of new backpacks (for some), new teachers, and new schools, there is also anxiety in the day-to-day environment we call school.
For kids it’s about fitting in, understanding, and often, being shoved into a one size fits all world of conformity and rules. For adults managing those rules, it’s about structure and discipline and accountability. Great schools manage it all well – they have rules and they have time for exploration and growth for teachers and kids. Ailing schools – found in both high- or low-income areas – always seem more likely to do what they’ve always done year after year without much reflection. Or, perhaps their people reflect on what they are doing or not, but their discovery isn’t treated with much importance or the ability to change is beyond them.
Whatever the cause – and we’ve written much about it – this nation is still not making the progress necessary to ensure all kids are truly given the opportunity to thrive and learn the most-est. That pesky status quo keeps too many protecting the ways of the past and avoiding the lessons of the future.
So rather than continue to talk the talk, I decided to walk the walk. What lessons could I learn that I haven’t in all these years in education reform, in leadership and in the communication and fight for the ideas I most want this nation to embrace? How do I take a 20 plus-year career in building alliances and networks and bridges and do more, but perhaps in unique, and new ways, to influence and support a still deficient but mission-critical enterprise like American education?
Clearly, I had to go back to school.
A bizarre convergence of meetings and new alliances introduced me to the CLO doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania in which I’m now enrolled – a program of executive leadership and learning devoted to making organizational leaders the most effective creatures on the planet in whatever industry they inhabit (my description, not theirs!) After just a day of this new schooling and a “flipped classroom” which depends on distance, digital and virtual learning, I knew I’d once again be tracking the trends that seem to mirror those that embody modern education reform.
I have shared with many I know before that the purpose and causes of education reform always seemed to track with my own personal experiences. My oldest son’s education was influenced by the reading wars (we won – they lost). My second’s was all about fuzzy math. My third addressed the big and new issue of the day – will we let boys be boys? My last, a girl, was a textbook case in how grit and resilience can help overcome difficulty and drive hard work, success, and compassion.
And now? I’m tracking the debate in higher education, in blended learning and in what it means to truly change a culture for the better; all themes that are transforming our deepest held beliefs about education in our nation. In the process, I’m hoping to learn how I might assist the next generation of leadership in reform, those I will soon leave in charge of the organization I founded 20 years ago and those I’ve yet to encounter.
I apologize to my new teachers and classmates who I may offend on the way and pray that my new back-to-school-me can survive and grow in ways I might never have imagined.
Now if you’ll excuse me while I go fiddle on my new and application clad IPAD as I get ready for another day of school!