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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Learners of All Ages and All Stages

How can a school become a vibrant and sustaining learning environment if the resources and the mission are solely based on the learners between the ages of five and eighteen? How can we, living at a time of accelerated changes socially, politically, financially, instructionally, and technologically seek to advance if we isolate our efforts on the needs of young learners? How can we expect to promote progress if we remain focused on children alone?

Many are the districts that preach commitment to developing the "whole child" or a focus on "all learners succeeding" as a means to explain that all aspects of an individual are addressed and nurtured. A brief conversation with the leaders of such schools with the aforementioned slogans would reveal that the "all learners" or "whole child" are euphemisms for the children in the school, not the adults. Truly though, an educational enterprise that seeks to optimize learning experiences must accept and respect that there are multiple stages and ages of learning among the greater school population that inhabits the building. That is, beyond the spectrum (or stages) of learning abilities among those we teach, are the different experience levels (ages) of those we serve. What are we doing, and how are we doing, in terms of developing the potential for our adult learners at school?

Four full days of professional staff development, together with one hour faculty meeting held after long, tiresome days of teaching are hardly sufficient to enhance instructional strategies and offer collaborative opportunities for curriculum integration or extend professional dialogue during common times for people who otherwise spend their work days operating apart from each other in classrooms that form an archipelago of islands.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to providing venues for teachers to cooperate and learn together is the perception by all too many outside of education that teachers only "work" when they are standing in a classroom before rows of children. This view is so firmly embedded in the general public since most of them have experienced days, months, and years as former learners in such an atmosphere of teacher working with kids that it's difficult to change that mental picture enough to support the need for more staff development promoting teacher growth.

That's as arcane a notion as assuming that lawyers only work when they are arguing a case before a filled courtroom, or doctors only work when applying their knowledge and skill at an operating table. Where is the chance to engage in meaningful exchange of ideas and exploration of possibilities designed to enrich the learning experience for children? Where is our investment in improving the prospects of teachers regarding their interaction with children, their understanding of freshly born research in their field, their expertise in the ever expanding promise of technological instruments and applications?

Until we wrestle with this complex issue and comprehend how vital the outcome is to furthering our need to improve learning experiences for all, we will continue to struggle with our achievement levels. Our governor has publicized his call for a bar exam for future teachers that rivals the standard entry level benchmark of the legal profession. But surely, it does not or should not stop there. After all, who would want to obtain the services of a lawyer who was able to pass the gate-keeping bar exam, but has not maintained knowledge or enriched skills since passing the bar exam? How can you be certain that the doctor who received his/her medical degree, has kept up with changes in their field of expertise? A bar exam for teachers is not enough. We must invest in the opportunity for our teachers to be recognized as learners at all ages and stages as well by offering time during the school day to collaborate and engage in professional learning activities.

In other words, teachers should be treated in the same manner that many other workers are. For example, if General Electric or General Motors want to introduce a new technology, provide new knowledge, or improve the specific
skills of employees they perform those services during the work day for as many days as necessary in order to equip the workers with the competitive edge to surpass the output and performance of others in their market. They do not conduct such activities during over-time outside of the normal work day. Likewise, schools should be able to invest the money and time to elevate the work of teachers and staff in the school.

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