Why We Need To Change Our Schools – Bea McGarvey

I don’t know about you, but on the one hand I see our schools working and on the other I don’t.  

I see a ton of kids who show up every day, do their work, get good grades, graduate, go on to college.  But I also see the kids who show up half the time, do little work, might graduate (but barely) or just choose to drop out. Anyone who knows my work knows that I’m trying to create educational programs that work for this second group of kids.  But it’s also no wonder that so many folks look at the first group and decide that schools are working and wonder why the second group can’t “get it together”…

So the question seems to be are schools working or not?

I know Auburn (and other districts) have decided that our schools aren’t working.  Where others see our schools working for 70% of the kids, we see our schools not working for 30%. We want our schools to work for all our children (or at least a whole heck of a lot more than they are now).

We’re looking for help from several areas, including: customized learning and Maine’s new Cohort for Customized Learning, Reinventing Schools Coalition training, and ideas from a variety of books, including Inevitable.

On Monday, January 23rd, Inevitable‘s co-author, Bea McGarvey spend the day in Auburn.  It was our workshop day, and she conducted two workshops with our teachers: the morning with the middle and high school staffs, and the afternoon with the elementary school staffs.  That evening she also led a community event focused on why we need to change our schools (you can watch a streaming video of the evening event – sorry, requires Flash).

One of the big aha’s for me was finally having a clear understanding of why things both seem to work and not work…

Bea shared that throughout her work with schools on how to change, she would have some teachers come up and ask, why do we need to fix schools if they seem to be working?

After really chewing over the question, Bea finally seemed to know the reason: schools aren’t broken.  They work great.  They do very well at what they were designed for.  The problem is that that goal has chanced.

During the industrial age, schools’ goal was to sort out talent and make the rest compliant.  We got really good at that.  But for this economy, the goal needs to be to develop talent in every child. That’s why we’re so frustrated: we’re trying to meet one goal with a tool that was designed for another.  (Bea says about this change of goals and the mismatch between the system and the goal: you can be cranky about this, but if this makes you really cranky, then you just have to leave education and do something else.)

This mismatch between our goal and our system made me think about how different the strategies are for each.  No wonder we’re “insane” – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results…

But I think even once we understand the need to change our schools, it makes us educators crazy in another way. 

It doesn’t matter how much we agree with the burning platform that our schools need to work for all our children, or how well we understand that the root problem is how our goals have changed and it isn’t “the teachers’ fault” (Bea says, according to Deming: 95% of the problems are not with the people; they are with the structure), the fact is, at some point teachers understand that they are good at a system designed for an old goal, and that they might not know how to do the system for the new goal…

And why wouldn’t this scare teachers whitless?

But being difficult isn’t a reason not to do the right thing.

And this is why Bea McGarvey says teachers need to get good at problem solving thinking and invention thinking. And it’s why “PD for Paradigm Shift” is one of the components of the Lead4Change model.  Teachers deserve to be supported, trained, and involved in the problem solving and invention needed to help our schools get good at our new goal.


It’s Your Turn:

How are you and your school working to develop the talent of all students?

About Mike Muir

I'm an educator interested in collaborating with other educators on engaging all learners, proficiency-based learning, technology's role in learning, and leadership for school change.
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