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Monday, June 27, 2022

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An Idea Whose Time Has Gone

The concept of a one size fits all education is an outdated idea. Requiring everyone to excel at the same rate in classrooms defies the way in which people are wired to learn. Would we be so naive as to expect everyone in a tennis clinic to proceed at the same rate? Would we expect all students in a group piano class to excel at the same rate?

In addition to practice, practice and more practice, levels of motivation, effort and talent all play a significant role in the rate and extent of success that one would have learning piano, tennis or any subject area.

In today’s fast-paced, global information age, major breakthroughs in technology and brain research have shed light on what we can be doing in schools to positively impact education and how students learn. The results are endless frameworks that try to capture our differences in a variety of areas including learning styles, processing information styles, behavioral styles, multiple intelligences, emotional intelligences, and even moral intelligences. All of our commonalities and differences are wound up in unique packages that make each child special, full of potential with gifts that emerge when allowed to develop.

If education is really all about kids, then schools should seek ways to guide students in fulfilling their potential. But it’s very difficult to test potential; it’s much easier to stifle potential with marathon bubbling exercises to prepare for tests. We live with a dilemma in education. There’s the critical need to document data on school progress while also providing an environment that challenges, excites and motivates students to reach success.

Unlike other businesses, the business of education is built on a captive audience that meets six to eight hours a day, five days a week for 180 days a year. What takes place during that time must be thoroughly examined if we are to build a culture where personal potential is honored and the gifts and talents of every child, as well as the adults working with students, are cultivated, stretched and celebrated.

This requires more than lip service and eloquent mission statements. It requires an allocation of beliefs, actions and resources that support an environment for learning. Anyone in education for 10 years or more is well aware of the pendulum swinging from one approach to another based on the latest fads. Understanding how the brain learns is the clue to moving forward and accomplishing what parents dream of for their children — a sense of worth and accomplishment. Developing a happy spirit that turns into a love of learning is a lofty and worthy goal for educators and parents as we prepare our students for the future. This requires a belief system that says, “Everything is possible.”

How Parents Can Help

Parents can play a role in influencing education by modeling the same behaviors we expect from our children.

  • Be a learner and embrace your own continuous learning. Opinions are a dime a dozen. Add credence to our thinking. Read what the experts say in order to discover the latest research on how people learn and best function. Our informational age provides us with access to a wealth of knowledge to be continuous and avid learners. Knowing where to start can be a daunting task. Some suggestions: Mindset by Carol Dweck, A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink and The Element by Sir Kenneth Robinson. You can even match your own learning and processing styles by purchasing hard backs, paper backs, CD’s for listening, and/or going directly to the Internet to meet these wise authors and hear their perspectives on Ted Talks or YouTube videos. Good sources can help us be informed consumers.
  • Be a positive role model. What we say and do impacts each child differently. How we talk to and about teachers impacts our children’s reactions to school and how much they are willing to invest in their own education. The majority of teachers are there because they care and want to make a difference. Treating people with dignity and respect is key even when we differ in our opinions and/or when we are hoping to improve a situation.
  • Try an exercise that promotes option thinking and positive approaches for solutions. Discussions around schools, teachers and education often turn into a blame placing exercise. When a problem exists it often propels us into action. The process can be motivating or depressing. Holding the belief that every problem has a solution can lead to an invigorating exercise. Surround yourself with people whose agendas are positive and lead to action that helps make everyone a winner.
  • Realize that the paradigm that school is a solo exercise in learning from a text, the Internet or a teacher only partially prepares our next generation for the future. Words like collaboration, cooperation, critical thinkers, creativity, communication and an ethical character belong in any discussion that promotes a positive change in education for tomorrow. This is not a call for a revolution; this is a call for keeping what works and adding what will make a more powerful education that acknowledges that one size fits all is a philosophy that has lost its credibility.

Joyce Burick Swarzman is the headmaster of Corbett Preparatory School of IDS. She is known for her dynamic workshops and seminars and has served as a consultant and lecturer for districts and organizations nationally and internationally.

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