The core purpose of education is to allow for personal growth as a learner and to prepare a student for living as an adult. Our responsibility as educators is to set the stage for learning to occur. Because of this, I believe that we need to provide our students with more than just outstanding instruction in math, reading, and writing. While traditional content is important, it needs to be partnered with a variety of evolving content areas, such as information and technology literacy skills, life skills, and 21st century content areas (e.g. global awareness, health and wellness information). Learning experiences should blend these areas and provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively, solve problems, create, and think critically. This means increasing opportunities for problem-based learning and integrating real world content into our curriculum.
For this to happen, children need to feel safe, supported and cared for in their school. A young child is willing to have their parent let go of their bike as they learn to ride it because of these feelings. They know that their parent is there to help them if they start to fall and to pick them up if they do. As an educational leader, my role is to create this kind of environment within a school. I believe that it is my responsibility to provide students with the opportunity to build positive relationships with adults who are supportive, have high expectations, and regularly communicate with them. This reflects a school environment where positive reinforcement, constructive guidance, and respect are integral to our daily functioning. These are all crucial ingredients for creating a safe environment for learning. After all, each learning experience requires a degree of risk for a student as they move out of their comfort zone and most students will not do this willingly unless they have a feeling of safety.
This environment should be carefully balanced with the expectation that all members of the school community should take ownership of their personal learning. For students, this means using the results of on-going assessments, both formal and informal, summative and formative, to help them grow and benchmark their progress. The products that students create as they develop critical thinking skills and use problem solving techniques should help them see the relevancy of their work and create opportunities to reflect on their progress. For the staff, this means continuing to challenge ourselves as educators as we learn more about learning and reflecting on our successes and failures. The school’s environment should promote and encourage staff to explore a variety of opportunities to learn from one another and engage in professional development. As an educational leader, this means continuing to engage in my own learning and growth, both as an administrator, teacher, and school psychologist, not just for the purpose of learning, but also as a role model for others.
Schools do not end when you leave the school property and schools need to be more than just institutions that provide a fine education. The barriers between the schoolhouse and the community need to be broken down to help students realize the importance and impact that their education can have. Because learning values is useless in isolation, we must create opportunities for students and their families to demonstrate understanding of values such as kindness, justice, and community support by engaging with the community. By providing this kind of an educational experience, schools have the potential to serve as the incubators of the future of the community.