Valid email addresses are required to post comments. If your comment is not posted, I will send you an email with an explanation.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who Are We, And Where Are We Going?

Try this.

Find a map of the world. Get a dart and a blindfold. Pin the map on a wall, put the blindfold on, and toss the dart at the map. Flip off the blindfold and discover where you landed.

Far fetched?

We recently enrolled two learners from Algeria. They speak fluently in both Arabic and French. Although they do not currently communicate in English, I expect that they will soon acquire English as a third language. They have travelled 4,000 miles, crossed several time zones and arrived here in Green Island. What a difference!

They appear to be bright and engaging adolescents. They are at a point in their lives when teens the world over are experiencing the growing pains associated with an emerging self-identity amidst an environment of expanded social awareness where peer acceptance and respect are increasingly valued. Imagine navigating this social landscape surrounded by people who speak a language you can't understand, eating foods you may have never seen before, and displaying customs and routines that are anything but customary and routine to you.

It's been a pleasure to observe the manner in which these two new learners have been accepted and accommodated thus far by their classmates at Heatly. I watch them approach the school each morning and notice they bring smiles with them and a cheerful sense of optimism. They have always returned my greeting with a demurring and deferential response in which facial expressions serve to universally communicate a pleasant good morning. I admire their commitment and resolve as they assimilate themselves into a new and very different culture. Their success in adjusting to Heatly will offer as much about our level of cooperation and understanding as it will about their degree of resiliency and commitment.

I've been thinking about how our world has grown more and more interdependent each passing day. Check the tags on the clothes you are wearing today. Where were they made? How about the car you drive? Even manufactured items, such as cars, that are "made in America" are often constructed with parts that originated in other countries. What foods have you eaten in the last week? Chinese? Mexican? Thai? Your electronics - where were they made? How many words or expressions have you used in the last month that have been imported from other languages and recently incorporated into English?

Want an interesting insight into our rapidly changing world, complete with new and startling reference points? Check out this five minute video on You Tube. It's entitled, "Shift Happens

What did you think about the video? The statistics offer an intriguing perspective on our country as we view ourselves in relation to other countries and how technology has democratized knowledge and leveled the playing field once dominated by a few nations. I perceive the message of the video as a clarion for schools to redefine their purpose and redirect their resources in order to compete globally and sustain the very important difference America has made across boundaries and over time. We must adapt and seek strategic leverage in generating the creativity and productivity that has enabled America to maintain its leadership position.

Despite rapid advances and extraordinary progress prompted by technology, I don't believe the solution relies solely or even largely on technological innovation. Ultimately, change is a personal experience and occurs one person at a time, so it's dependent on interpersonal communication and relationships.

The changing demographics, the political transformations, and the volatile economy all present both risk and opportunity to our public schools. The increased diversity of learner populations certainly places a premium on the versatility and adaptability of schools attempting to meet the needs of learners of all languages and backgrounds. Programs like Limited English Proficiency and English as a Second Language aside, the performance of our schools depends on successfully integrating diverse cultures, different ideas, new paradigms -  and an acceptance of change as a constant. It requires tolerance, sensitivity, and understanding as learners interact with people from the far reaches of the globe who have brought with them potentially enriching and enlightening concepts. Think of the advantage our two new learners have when they become fluent in three different languages while living in a world in which technology has erased boundaries and granted access to markets and opportunities for those who can communicate and those who can assimilate. The exchange of ideas and practices among people of different backgrounds hold promise for mutual benefits in a new and common future.

Jim Collins, author of the business best-seller, Good to Great, suggests that success results from organizations that maintain an allegiance to their core values and ideology, but recognize that almost everything else in the organization is subject to change if you expect to survive in a rapidly changing world. I believe that is true for schools as well. There are certain and fairly universal beliefs and values that serve as a foundation and orientation for a public school - i.e. success for all; egalitarian frameworks, equal opportunities... but what we teach, how we teach, when we teach, and even why we teach should all be subject to change whenever that change can project greater success for our learners and forecast increased benefits for the future.

Education is all about transformation. Education can also be viewed and valued as an economic engine if schools can provide the conditions to promote the creativity, ingenuity, and inspiration for learners to contribute to sustaining our nation's prominence in the world through innovation and the pursuit of excellence. But we can't wait. We need to invest in, and commit to, that goal now because the rest of the world isn't waiting and the Shift Happens video provides evidence of that.

No comments:

Post a Comment