Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Why We Advocate

If possible, I like to get out into our schools and see what is going on in classrooms. Unfortunately it is not as often as I like, and lately there have been many other projects and tasks that have prevented me from interacting with our students and teachers with the frequency that I would prefer. But when I have the chance to visit classrooms, what I often see is quite extraordinary! I try my best to document these encounters and share the 'Miracles that Happen Every Day', but to capture this magic in the context of 140 characters and a photo is quite challenging. Yet, through my informal observation of instruction, those opportunities to see learning come to life in they eyes of our students is what makes everything else about this work so rewarding. Furthermore, the dedication, planning, and attention to detail our teachers must exhibit in order to execute some of these lessons is of a complexity that is very hard to understand or grasp.

Yes, I am fortunate to be able to witness some pretty remarkable learning experiences and projects that have been planned by an outstanding teaching staff. For example, a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the 4th grade 'wax museum' where our students had the task of exploring and researching a famous figure from history, either living or dead and then creating a slide show presentation of their work using their iPad's. As a capstone to that activity, each student created a likeness of their subject and presented it in the form of a wax museum, where visitors to the exhibit could see these 'wax sculptures' come to life and share the story of who they were. This project gave our students the chance to expand their learning well beyond a history lesson on a famous person! They were able to engage audience members in eye contact, fluent speaking, and expressive thought. As I was leaving the presentation that afternoon, I had the chance to have a brief conversation with one of the teachers who had planned the activity with her teaching team. I thought this was an excellent project and after sharing my observation with her, she explained to me how they were planning to improve the experience the next time. I thought it was great, and of course it was. She wanted to make it even better!

Then there is the deep thinking and hands on learning that is happening in the agriculture department. Our students are experimenting with both a hydroponics and aquaponics lab, and enjoying quite a bit of success growing lettuce and other garden vegetables. A great example of scientific inquiry, students who are working in the greenhouse have to constantly monitoring a number of variables in order to ensure their crop is getting just the right mix of water, fertilizer, and sunlight in order to provide sustainability. One of the best parts about this observation and conversation with the teacher was that this success didn't just occur by mere happenstance. There were many trials and errors the students had to overcome before finding just the right balance. What a wonderful example of a Key to Success: Acknowledging that failure does indeed lead to success.

The hands on activity of this lab and others like it around our school provide our students with a rich and varied educational experience that is designed not only to engage our students, but to challenge their thinking. These are only but a few examples of the outstanding experiences our students are exposed to on a daily basis. There is the deep learning and problem solving occurring in the Inquiry Space. Or the work that is just gaining steam with the National History Day project. How about the implementation of our connected learning initiative that has now expanded to include grades 3-12? What is also interesting and should be lost on no one, particularly with regard to the two projects described above is where we interacted with the learning. What I witnessed and shared with you was the finished product. Unfortunately neither you or I were present when a light bulb came on for a particular student or class. What we saw was impressive for sure, but what was most impressive is what happened in that moment of time when a student found success, where a barrier was overcome!

My point today is that since the real work of the General Assembly began in January, the bulk of my discussion here has focused on varying policy proposals and how they might impact our school district. There is no doubt this session has provided me with plenty of material to write about, and there is more to come. At a minimum, I seek to provided our community with perspective on how these policy proposals will impact our school district. Indeed part of my job requires advocacy on behalf of our students, but every once in a while if we (I) don't pause and take a breath we tend to forget what all this advocacy is about! Our kids, right? So while the flurry of activity continues in Des Moines, today I wanted to shine a light on all the neat learning experiences that have been and will continue to happen inside our school. Hopefully this pause has given us an opportunity to remember what all that advocacy is about.

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