As I wrap up my final graduate school course — CEP 815: Technology and Leadership — in the Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) program at Michigan State University, I cannot think of a more timely and suitable task than to construct a vision for K-12 education. While my vision may bold, I know that, with effective leadership, hard work, and determination, it can be achieved.
My Vision Statement
I envision an educational approach where students are engaged, lifelong learners and respectful, compassionate and contributing members of society. A community of stakeholders will unite to deconstruct and eliminate stigmas rooted in prejudice, discrimination and stereotypes. Implementing these visions will require teachers to design and facilitate social and emotional learning (SEL) experiences, create and maintain equitable learning for students, and implement mindfulness practices to encourage kindness, student reflection and well-being. Collaborative projects, authentic tasks, personalized learning experiences and spaces that are conducive to creativity and mindfulness will aid students in developing into multicultural, empathetic and respectful contributors to our classrooms and our community (Durlak et al., 2011).
While social-emotionally deficient students become less engaged in school settings over time, it is the responsibility of parents and teachers to reverse this by building meaningful relationships rooted in trust, empathy and compassion (Durlak et al., 2011; Hough, 2014). When emphasis is placed on kindness as much as it is on academic achievement, we can build a community of knowledgeable, caring individuals. Activities, such as infusing academic content in collaborative, community service projects, will not only help students learn desired skills outlined in curricula but, more importantly, prove that helping others is attainable and rewarding. According to Cohen (2006), such service-oriented learning can foster listening skills, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and selflessness, beginning within our schools and expanding globally. Traditional penpalship between students has evolved in our digital, hyper-connected world, and when students utilize its affordances to immerse themselves in the lives of others outside of there sphere, they can breakdown the classroom walls and forge an understanding of life and challenges outside of their own.
As the needs and abilities of students vary, teachers’ efforts must focus on personalizing learning experiences to provide equitable opportunities for students to succeed academically and emotionally (Freeman et al., 2017). Active learning strategies, such as project-based learning (PBL), can allow students to pursue topics of interest, providing motivation and flexibility in their learning (Bell, 2010). In addition to tailoring instruction, expectations and resources, teachers must display empathy for students; teachers can serve as role models for the types of compassionate students we want to develop when witnessing biases and stereotypes. Recognizing that practices must be consistently evaluated to make proper improvements, teachers and parents must check in with students to gauge if their needs are being met (Hough, 2014). Attending parent-teacher conferences and back-to-school night, staying active in classroom online learning communities (i.e., Google Classroom, Schoology, etc.), instilling effective productivity habits and having daily conversations with children can allow parents to remain involved and support their child’s learning. Only when we peel back the curtains of our students’ veracious perspectives will the state of our efforts to create a culture of inclusivity be revealed. The focus must not be solely on at-risk students, but all of our students.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14” (2019); therefore, equipping students with the coping skills to aid in self-regulating their emotions can serve great importance. Incorporating daily mindfulness practices in our schools, such as meditation and yoga, can provide our students with a keen ability to reflect on their feelings and alleviate anxiety — leading to better preparedness and aptitude for learning. We must support emotional and mental health, beginning in our schools and extending to life at home. As Sir Ken Robinson articulates, the “factory model” that our classrooms still mimic needs to be reevaluated and redesigned to meet the expanding needs of our students (OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design, 2010). Our students have a greater ability to practice mindfulness and exude creativity when their learning environments include flexible, collaborative and independent work spaces, adequate lighting, inspirational decor and technology (Rands & Gansemer-Topf, 2017).
Social and emotional learning experiences, appropriate tools and adequate support, as well as the creation of environments that welcome mindfulness and creativity, can help our students celebrate diversity and widen their perspectives of the world. In addition to teachers committing to fostering these values, it is of utmost importance to assess ways in which the student learning process can be approached holistically and collaboratively. Therefore, teachers must also build strong relationships with parents and keep lines of communication open in order to ensure that proper support is in place and efforts are being made to proactively help our students to succeed both inside and outside of our classrooms (OECD Policy Brief, 2008).
Bell, S. (2010). Project-based learning for the 21st century: Skills for the future. The Clearing House, 83(2), 39-43.
Cohen, J. (2006). Social, emotional, ethical, and academic education: Creating a climate for learning, participation in democracy, and well-being. Harvard educational review, 76(2), 201-237.
Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta‐analysis of school‐based universal interventions. Child development, 82(1), 405-432.
Freeman, A., Becker, S. A., & Cummins, M. (2017). NMC/CoSN horizon report: 2017 K. The New Media Consortium.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2008). Ten steps to equity in education. Policy Brief.
OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. Retrieved from http://thethirdteacherplus.com/s/Ch2-TTT-for-Web-0y6k.pdf.
Rands, M. L., & Gansemer-Topf, A. M. (2017). The room itself is active: How classroom design impacts student engagement. Journal of Learning Spaces, 6(1), 26.
What’s your vision?