Talking Early College, Education Transformation and Hero Teachers #ECWeek16

Topics: Community Partnerships, Early College High School, Education Policy, ESSA

Matt Williams shares takeaways from the EDWorks Conference, which range from discussions of early college, school transformation and the hero teacher myth. The recent Experience Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, focused on the work of a national network of KnowledgeWorks Early College High Schools. These schools focus on first-generation college students and provide the rigor and supports necessary to insure that students graduate from high school with their high school diploma as well as up to 60 college credits, the equivalent of an associate degree. These are tremendous schools and those that work in and with these schools are equally impressive.

Some key takeaways from the conference:

Deb Delisle, Executive Director of ASCD and member of the KnowledgeWorks Board of Directors, outlined the fact that transformation in schools and education in general is a messy proposition. This couldn’t be truer. To truly transform a system and confront the status quo you have to overturn some apple carts as the saying goes. (To be honest, I’ve never seen an upset apple cart, but I digress). We need more leaders and teachers that are willing to brave the messiness of transformation.

We have an engagement issue on our schools. As adults we can make all of the excuses we want, but that doesn’t fix the fact that in a globally interconnected world that produces content an exponential levels daily we’ve kept our school system firmly in the proverbial box. We need to find ways daily to capture moments of significance for our students. Students, because they are, you know, human, crave relevance, reflection and collaboration. These are essential. If we were to think back to our very best teachers, they did that for us and we are better for it.

Ed Boland, an author, closed out the conference. He reflected on his time teaching in the New York City Schools. He brought up a truth about education and one that KnowledgeWorks holds dear. We need to go beyond the walls of the school to transform our educational system. We need students interacting out in the community, with business and industry, with nonprofits and NGOs, with the world around them. AND, they need that same world to come into their schools to mentor, tutor, and help guide them and thus making education relevant, connected and real.

My colleague, Colleen Maleski of StriveTogether, tweeted the above. Amen. Rigor is king. We need to supply rigor in equitable ways. Rigor shouldn’t discriminate or only be present in certain zip codes or for some students but not others. All students rise to the challenge because they want to be challenged. They need an adult to say it’s time to bring their “A” game.

One of the premises of keynote speaker Ed Boland’s speech was that “we need to dispel the myth of the hero teacher.” His point was that the heroic, movie teachers are just that, fiction. I actually disagree.

We need to reframe the hero teacher myth maybe, but not dispel it. Each of us had one teacher, if not many, that was a hero to us. They may not have been a hero in the made-for-tv-movie sense, but they were a hero because cared for us, challenged us, made us feel special and helped us rise to the occasion. You know what? That’s heroic. For me it was Ms. Alice Van Zant. She was a beast (and that’s the highest praise for me) of a teacher. She expected the best and sometimes thought my best wasn’t good enough. She helped me understand that and step my game up at a time in my life that I just frankly wanted to mail it in. She was and remains my hero.