I led a professional development meeting with my English department this week at school. The meeting was to refine our curriculum and embed more 21st century learning. We realized we couldn’t start this discussion until we’d decided on our English department’s maxims first.
So we set out to do just that. And we got to them by asking two guiding questions: “What are the fundamental principles that drive our instruction?” and “What type of English student do we want graduating from our department?” Honestly, how can a department of any discipline make decisions about end goals, assessments, mastery, homework, summer assignments, or even daily lessons without knowing what they stand for.
Philosophically who they are as teachers. And, most importantly, who they want the kids to become as learners and citizens of the world when the graduate.
As our brainstorming and planning day came to an end, I began to reflect on the experiences of my own children. I wonder if their teachers are clear on their purpose. If their teachers know the type of student they are trying to create. If their teachers talk about the driving principles of their discipline. Sometimes I wonder. When my kids come home with worksheets, packets, rote memorization tasks, and mindless regurgitation, I wonder if they feel as disengaged from the content as the work feels from real life.
I challenge you to ask, “What type of adult do your kids’s teachers’ activities intend to create?”
As a district, Los Alamitos is very clear about its brand. We ignite unlimited possibilities for students. We embrace the whole child. We build well-rounded students with a focus on activities, arts, athletics and academics. But how does this trickle down to each school and then, most importantly, into the classroom -- where the real work happens. It’s not enough to stand for the “what” without also building the “how.”
As a parent, I want us all to start asking the questions that get our district teachers to start asking questions of their practice. Why this assignment? Why this task? What’s the purpose? What type of adult is this activity building?
I also realized during my meeting this week that I want to more clearly identify the maxims for my family. What do we stand for? How do we make the tough decisions? How do we stay focused on what matters? As I type, I think about phrases I say over-and-over to my kids: “Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” “Effort unlocks your potential,” “Your level of success is completely up to you,” and “Find your own purpose.” I’m sure all of you have phrases that bounce off your walls on a regular basis, because as parents these are the principles we use to build our little adults. The same needs to apply in the classroom.
If every teacher worked to build little scientists or thinkers or innovators or independent learners -- whatever the courses’ maxims -- our kids would be engaged. They would be excited about their learning. They would be inspired to find their path.
It’s time for teaching and learning to be purposeful and meaningful every day with every assignment -- because the world can be changed one maxim at a time.
Just do it.