Preparing students for the future vs. Being mindful of their present experiences

Recently, I have been listening a lot to Eckhart Tolle’s “Meditations.” He mentions that they are meditations because you must also listen to the “space between the words.” I absolutely agree with his strong contention that we must live fully in the “Now” and not look to the future for a sense of fulfillment or even enlightenment. He stresses that we must appreciate the present moment, even with “all its imperfections.”  His words strike a cord in me and feed my spiritual passions.
                Another deep passion of mine is education. I believe in the power of knowledge and I advocate for the value of good teaching and clear learning each and every day.  So, as I listen to Mr. Tolle and contemplate how to improve (and truly transform) education, I wonder how I can bridge these two passions.  Because those in education, faculty and students most notably, focus almost exclusively on the future: what college will I get accepted to, what scores will my students get on their Advanced Placement test, etc.  Education today is highly goal driven and rightfully so in some regards.  But yet, this focus seems to be eroding away at our young people’s ability to enjoy their lives fully.  They are so caught up in their future that they have lost the ability to enjoy their experiences Now.  Very often, whenever possible really, I remind my high school students that they need to stop, relax, and ENJOY these transformative years.  I try to engrained in them an appreciation for this wondrous time in their lives.  It is so funny to feel the energy of resistance I get to this concept.  As a high school principal, many do not see my role as one who should be asking young adults to be mindful and appreciative. I think most people believe that my role is to set standards for rigorous courses, exemplary teaching, and high achievement on standardized tests – exclusively.    Yet, some of my highest goals for my students are for them to attain social aptitude, emotional intelligence, strong character development, and a sense of themselves that brings confidence and clarity.  These goals can be achieved …Now!  Yet, each day I am reminded of the immense responsibilities educational institutions face to prepare children for the future so they can be productive members of society when they grow up.  We are constantly sending the message that our focus should be on our goals – on the future!
              Once again, as I have written about in the past, I am trying to meld two very contrasting ideas: preparing today’s youth for the future while trying to have them understand the value, and power, of the present moment.  While I see this as a challenge with some obstacles, I also see this as a great opportunity and one of the ways I can help transform education. As is the case with so much of what I do, I embrace this challenge with an open mind and a caring heart.  Hopefully, these two attributes will guide me as I do my best to guide my students in the most appropriate manner.

The Value of Imagination and Discovery

Recently, I heard Sir Ken Robinson speak about the value of embracing and fostering creativity in our schools.  Then I heard about James Cameron’s historic journey to the deepest part of the ocean and I began to contemplate his words that “Imagination feeds exploration.” This, in turn, got me thinking about Albert Einstein’s famous quote that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” So, you might be asking how does any of this relate to my goal of transforming education?  Well, I strongly believe that teachers and schools need to promote the importance of “Discovery.”  We need to tap into our young student’s innate curiosity and lead them, not force them, into a sincere desire to want to know more.  Can you imagine what James Cameron first thought about that led him to explore the deep ocean.  What influences sparked his imagination?  What teacher guided his discovery?  Then imagine if he had been thwarted along the way because he did not have the opportunities or support to fully investigate his passions.  This is one example.  Einstein another as well as all those who helped get a man on the moon.  My plea, similar to Sir Ken Robinson’s, is to foster creativity in schools and show those young adults we are charged with each day that we value the act of discovery as much as we value exhibiting proficiency on standardized tests.  In this way, I believe we can instill wonder and spark exploration in every aspect of learning!

Are these goals mutually exclusive?

For as long as I have been an educator, I have contemplated not only the value of education in our society, but the best approach to providing that education.  Over the last decade, the topic of how to best transform what has been deemed a “broken system” dominates the discussion on education reform . Certainly, this discussion has been of particular interest to me as an administrator who wants to lead his school effectively through these times of great change.  My own vision for what schools should look like, along with some credible approaches on how to spark this transformation at Westfield High School, have been influenced by a number of great minds.  Recently, I listened to a very interesting explanation of the purpose of education by Noam Chomsky. At the start he mentions the constant pull between two forces: the traditional “enlightenment approach” of teaching youth how to learn and find their own interests versus the idea that young adults need to be “indoctrinated” into society with a set of rules that are designed to “control” the way students learn.  He goes on to comment about this struggle that pits the need for “constant testing ” versus “creative inquiry.”
In my own thoughts on education, I recognize the value of discovery, intellectual inquiry, and that schools should construct knowledge.  However, I also recognize that we are trying to create young adults who are ready for college and/or careers. In this process, assessment is necessary to gauge progress towards predetermined goals.  So my question these days is why can’t our schools provide both the opportunity to learn based upon a constructivist model while still ensuring that prescribed  standards are met which prepare students for life after high school.  I am certain I am not alone in this inquiry and will continue to look for ways to transform schools that can honor intellectual pursuits while still providing the invaluable service of preparing youth to be productive members of society.  As I continue this pursuit, I look forward to working with my Professional Learning Network to evaluate creative measures to meet these two important goals, which I do not believe are mutually exclusive.

Several years ago, Westfield High School was in a consortium to transform schools. I deeply admire Grant Wiggins and believe in his methodology. This article is provocative, not surprisingly. I will reread several times to fully understand and evaluate his basic premise.

Granted, and...

UPDATE: Cool. This post was nominated and made the shortlist for Most Influential Post of 2012 by edublog. I’m really honored!


What if the earth moves and the sun is at rest? What if gravity is just a special case of space-time? Following both counter-intuitive premises revolutionized science and ushered in the modern world. Could a similar counter-intuitive thought experiment advance education from where I believe we are currently stuck? I believe so.

The educational thought experiment I wish to undertake concerns curriculum. Not the specific content of curriculum, but the idea of curriculum, what any curriculum is, regardless of subject. Like Copernicus, I propose that for the sake of better results we need to turn conventional wisdom on it is head:  let’s see what results if we think of action, not knowledge, as the essence of an education; let’s see what results from thinking of future ability, not knowledge…

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My conflicting energies (or are they??)

During my time at the NASSP Conference in Tampa, I took a crash course in how to best help my school decrease the digital divide.  I was immersed in all things Social Media, including Twitter, Web 2.0, Flickr, etc.  So much so that today, when my flight was delayed, I was consumed with amassing websites on my new Delicious account.  Oh what an opportunity to “Jump In” as I blogged about earlier.  I was even Tweeting right up until the captain told us to turn off our phones.  I am addicted.  

Interestingly, some of what I was Tweeting about were spiritual matters, as I follow a number of wise Tweeters.  I commented on being present and appreciating the “Now.” Then I had to shut down and decided to, once again, listen to Eckhart Tolle’s “The Deepest Truth of Human Existence.”  I have commented, via Twitter, that this “meditation” is truly a gift to mankind. I was again impressed and inspired while listening on the plane. 

 Then I realized that I am in quite a quandary with my energies and the focus of my Twitter posts.  There is a part of me that has a sincere desire to delve into the Social Media Revolution with the intention of bridging the digital divide for Westfield High School.  I am committed to making some significant changes to best utilize what I have learned.  And, at the same time, I am also committed to helping some people recognize, among other things, the value of “surrendering to the present moment, filled with its limitations” as beautifully professed by Mr. Tolle.  This dilemma is the same one I first experienced when I began Tweeting and recognized that I was writing about two distinct themes: Improving education and raising awareness about spiritual matters, such as our connection to our inner selves and to raising our consciousness.  As Walt Whitman expressed so beautifully, “We are complex beings.”  I guess I will need to determine how I wish to express my complexity in the digital world.  Time will tell.

Jumping in!

Well, over the past few days I have taken a crash course in how to join the Social Media revolution while here at the NASSP convention in Tampa.  Fortunately for me, and many others, we have had some excellent presenters and coaches. I will be forever grateful to Eric Sheninger and Patrick Larkin for their stewardship and excellent example.  Now I simply must let all this information settle for a bit before I figure out my next steps and how to use this technology to improve my school culture and improve student achievement.

What I really appreciate is the passion of those I met here and how much they truly want to transform education so that they can provide the best learning environment for our students.  People like Eric, Patrick and Bob Dillon are all so sincere in their desire to make technology work to improve instruction.  I applaud their expertise, but just as importantly, their passion.  I am grateful to have met them and to be a part of their Professional Learming Network.

Evaluating the benefit of blogging

Recently, I jumped into the digital world when I got my iPad. I feel I am in a whole new world as I am  more connected and capable.  Then I joined Twitter and the social media revolution. I never got on Facebook so this type of interaction is new as well.  So, after being frustrated with the limits of 140 characters, I was advised to begin blogging. I can certainly see the benefit of writing about your interests. Now I am curious who will care what I have to say.  

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