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Superintendent's Report - School District Redesign - Part 2

This is the second segment of a three-part series of articles about the Kansas State Department of Education’s “Kansans Can” vision and the initiative to re-design schools.

“Change? I love change. Change is great. As long as I don’t have to do it.” I still remember this conversation from early in my principal career at Sabetha High School. A teacher-leader shared the prevalent attitude regarding change. Most of us find comfort in predictability. Change challenges our comfort level and upsets our mental programming.

Based upon a recent study conducted across the state of Kansas, Commissioner Randy Watson, on behalf of the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE), discovered that most Kansans want to see changes to traditional education. Many of these changes include an emphasis on increasing skills such as people skills and work ethic, as opposed to a predominant focus on academic content. When we spend the majority of our time on content, schools are not meeting the perceived future needs of students.

So why is change difficult? Why is it especially difficult in schools? People don’t like change. As educators, we tend to teach the way we were taught.

Technology is helping to impact this, but as a general rule, classroom learning “looks” very similar to how it looked 30 years ago. One example is the use of lecture as an instructional strategy. We know from brain research that it typically has low student engagement compared to other methods as an instructional strategy.

In order to explore the connection between instructional strategy and student learning, an examination of data revealed the following: 398 USD No. 113 students have participated in a learning style inventory that is part of the effort to establish an Individual Plan of Study (IPS) for each student.

The program recommended by KSDE, Career Cruising, identifies 11 different categories of learning styles. USD No. 113 grades seven through 12 students scored 39.5 percent as tactile learners. An additional 13.6 percent of our kids were in the “Auditory Tactile” classification. More than half of our kids learn best with some form of instruction that involves movement, touch or spatial perception. Using lecture alone does not meet these learning needs.

A recent saying in education is: the person who is talking is doing the learning. The message is that we need to get kids engaged in dialogue about the skills and content being taught. “Teacher Talk” is not always the best instructional decision.

So what challenges do teachers face when implementing instructional change? Parents understand lectures, worksheets and multiple choice tests, but don’t always understand some of the ambiguity that is part of project-based learning. Additionally, schools are governed by the people who are served.

Parental opinion and Board of Education governance create a political layer that is positive, but can present challenges at the classroom, building and district level when change is attempted. A final obstacle to change is that everyone has been to some form of schooling. Most have been to public schools. Because of this experience, many believe they are experts about education and this can provide resistance and challenges to change because of misinformation.

As we examine current practices in an attempt to re-design schools, we need to ask ourselves, “Why do we do it that way?” Our response needs to be something different than, “Because we always have.” There is safety in doing it the way we always have, but that doesn’t mean it is the best way to prepare kids and shape the future.

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