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Deep in the Heart of Texas

by William Madigan

Texas Blog Series:  In honor of the AVID’s National Conference in Texas this week, AVID guest blogger William Madigan picks his favorite gems from the Public Education VISIONING INSTITUTE report, written by a group of forward-thinking Texas educators, that is filled with common-sense principles, premises, and calls to action for policy makers and educators in Texas.  In their report, they agree that major policy changes need to be made and “assert that schools must be transformed on a different set of assumptions and beliefs.”  They declare that educators must be included in creating a framework for the education system they are tasked to run and implement. 

PART 2: The Public Education VISIONING INSTITUTE, comprised of 35 savvy Texas superintendents, agrees that deep in the heart of Texas’s education troubles is determining how to truly transform school systems. One answer, they submit, is helping schools become “community-owned institutions” where “employees are knowledge workers and students [are] the primary customers of knowledge work.” This structural change will require eliminating bureaucracies while maintaining “well defined processes,” thus creating a climate for vibrant accountability systems and rich learning environments.

Gem #3: *For educational staff: “Accountability systems that are designed to inspire and that are founded on high expectations, a sense of fairness, trust, and complete confidence in the measures employed.”

This sounds like it was taken directly out of AVID’s National Director of Special Initiatives, Mike Neece’s moral imperative.  Mike travels the nation training educational leaders and administrators about how to create and maintain intentional cultures and systems that support success.  One of his central mantras is that the best way to hold staff accountable is by building their capacities and connecting with them genuinely.  Indeed, the Texas report itself dismisses the “punitive” culture of fear that currently exists in most staff evaluation systems. Like seasoned parents, these Texan educators clearly understand the power of a positive approach.

Similarly, Dr. Larry Brendtro, in his book The Resiliency Revolution, focuses on the power of growing the positive rather than criticizing the negative. Not surprisingly, recent research shows that companies that focus on and improve the positive have been shown to increase their bottom line more than companies that worry about what they are doing wrong. (Read Rob Gira’s blog, “Resiliency, the Brain and Emotion,” Sept. 2010 for more information.)

Gem #4: *For curriculum: “Learning should be specified to the “profound level,” that is, students are able to apply their learning to new situations, to synthesize, solve problems, create knowledge, and cultivate and utilize the full range of their capabilities.”

This focus on the “profound” is liberating.  As I travel around the nation from Hawaii to Baltimore, all teachers and administrators grumble about how the standardized tests wreak havoc on their campuses every spring.  Angst, worry, and energy-draining concern run deep in the hearts of good educators everywhere. over these is disheartening.  Because the world is engulfed in a multifaceted revolution, we as a nation need to respond; instead, we pour vital human energy into inauthentic assessments that give little more than a snapshot of information—information that does not help us make critical thinkers or problem solvers.  We need the profound skills taught such as problem solving, teaming, and collaborating, and project-based learning.  As recently as twenty years ago, we were number one among all industrialized nations in critical thinking; now we are ranked 24 out of 28.  We need to speedily return to our national, affirming identity of being world-class innovators, but simply worrying about tests will not help us regain our position.

About the author:  William (Billy) Madigan is a guest blogger for AVID.  Billy is an AVID teacher at Steele Canyon High School in San Diego, California, and is one of AVID’s top staff developers, highly respected for his work.  Billy was asked to review the VISION INSTITUTE document and offer his critique and comments. 

Coming next:  More gems from the VISIONING INSTITUTE as they address assessments and transforming schools based on 21st century beliefs.

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