Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Inno-cation: The Intersection of Innovation in Education

Two years ago a series of letters written Richard Cullatta and Sandy Speicher, Innovation Letters, sparked a international conversation regarding innovation in education.  If you have been following this blog you would know that this is something I have focused on throughout my career.  The title of the blog alone, Pioneer in Education, leads to this end.  I believe we are Pioneers of a new education system.  One that is not only designed differently, but more importantly, thought of differently.

The age old design question, does function drive form or does form drive function?, has never been more palatable in education than now.  Currently, I believe that function drives form.  The why of this thought process is for another blog.  Germaine to this blog is the fundamental belief that the function of education is a direct product of how "education is thought of."

Education is still viewed or "thought of" by the consumers (unfortunately, parents and stakeholders and not students) as a system of informational delivery to students that parents believe are essential and important.  To change the function of education we need to change how education is thought of.  What is the purpose of education?  What are we preparing students for?  What are the essential skills that seven year olds will need to be successful fifteen years down the road?  What does business and industry expect students to be able to do?  What are the passions that our students want to pursue?  What are the pressing questions of today and potentially tomorrow that our students need to solve?

This thought/view of education is radically different from the current view/thought.  This thought/view of education requires a different function of schools and will eventually necessitate a different form to education.  To get there however, we need leaders to look at school differently.  We need leaders who are willing to step off the ledge and bring innovation to the forefront of education in their individual school houses.

This brings me back to the Innovation Letters.  How do we create schools of innovation?  How do we create innovation leaders?  How to we communicate with parents and other pertinent stake holders the importance of innovation?  How do we create partnerships of innovation (because schools can't do it alone)?  How do we teach innovation?

To answer this call to action, I believe the first step is to harness the knowledge of YOU.  Take a moment to read the Innovation Letters and respond to this post and the essential question: Why innovate and where do we start innovating?

Friday, July 8, 2016

The #1 Reason for Poor Student Performances

The Author of "The #1 Reason for Poor Student Performances", Derek Beres, makes a compelling argument as he rails against the long held belief that economics is the number one determinate of educational success (read my blog, "A Bridge Too Far""). His article, "The #1 Reason", suggests that stress is the most critical determinate of educational success. 

This was a powerful reminder of the influence our brain has on education.  How ironic is it that as educators we forget (or don't truly understand) the role the brain plays in regards to using our brain!  I am somewhat of a nerd and I have passionately read and maintained an understanding of neuroscience and the influence it can have on education.  That being said, I agree with the author that stress does play a critical role on educational attainment.  I am not certain that it is the most powerful predictor, however, it plays a significant role and needs to be examined more.

An age old theory of brain development is the Triune Brain Theory (founded by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean).  This theory states that the brain has three different and separate components that have evolved over time: Reptilian, Mammalian and the Neo-Cortex.  Germane to this writing is the Reptilian brain.  The author correctly identifies this part of the brain as the Lizard brain.  This is because it corresponds with the anatomy of a lizard brain.  This part of the brain is in charge of the three major F's: food (survival), flight (survival), and fornication (species survival).  The ultimate goal for the reptilian brain is survival. 

Stressful situations are what drive the reptilian brain into action.  It is also important to know that when enacted the reptilian brain has the ability to over ride or shut down the Neo-Cortex (which is the portion of the brain that is used for reasoning, among many others).  When enacted the reptilian brain will go into fight or flight (defend of run).  Couple this what we know about students in a state of prolonged and chronic stress.  Students who experience prolonged and chronic stress have a reptilian brain that is always on high alert.  These students tend to quickly and frequently respond to stimuli with fight of flight (defend or run).

What stressors cause the reptilian brain to engage and overthrow the Neo-Cortex?  Experiences or stimuli that the student is uncomfortable, unfamiliar or challenged with (among others).  Therefore, students who are chronically stressed will not respond well to intimidation, screaming or any form of fear.  These students will either fight back in an irrational way or shut down. 

Students who are confronted with a new, complex, unfamiliar and uncomfortable challenges can be moved into fight or flight.  Think of all the potential scenarios that this could be associated with.  Many of the experiences that a student in school would encounter could engage and enact the reptilian brain (high stakes testing, a new curriculum, a challenging class, the dynamics of small group work, etc...). These experiences are stressors and do indeed impact student achievement and educational attainment.

What are the best practices we can use to marginalize the impact of stress?  Outside of creating and fostering an environment that allows all student to learn and a non-confrontation school environment, to date, I am not familiar with any quality best practices.  As I said earlier, this challenge in education needs to be scrutinized and researched more. 

A good place to start is to read the above linked article and the accompanying research within the article.