Keeping One Foot (at least) Grounded in the REAL Work

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I just returned from “the trail” with 160+/- students, over one dozen colleagues, and 30+/- community members from a 10 mile hike on the Eastern Trail. On a brisk, typical Maine spring day (meaning that you just never know whether it will be a day for shorts and t’s or full blown winter gear), this large group entered into the wilderness on a culminating authentic learning event. This day included walking with learners of all ages, engaging in rich conversations, building relationships, and making the learning real, purposeful, and lasting. Goal setting and encouragement were pervasive. Because of this, everyone was successful, in that goals were reached, healthy habits were modeled, and community was strengthened.

And, I was able to keep one foot (metaphorically speaking) grounded in what really matters in our schools. I “walked the talk” so to speak as I spent time engaging in a meaningful experience with others. I could have stayed behind to write that state required SIPS plan, responded to a variety of emergencies throughout the day, answered the phone, supported teachers with NWEA testing glitches, or problem-solved with the lunch ladies around lunch count accuracy issues our school continues to face. I could have attended a contentious IEP meeting or met with a teacher to develop an action plan. But, I chose to walk beside them…

Let’s not fool ourselves. With all of these conversations around proficiency-based education, Common Core implementation, and standards-based reporting transitions, we cannot lose sight of what really matters: student engagement, a sense of belonging, and investment in goal setting, not to mention the development of civic and environmental responsibility along with a healthy spiritual sense of self. We’re quickly losing sight of the foundational components of a sustainable society. Our schools lack this focus as curriculum developers break academic expectations and learning outcomes down into fragmented, discrete levels of knowledge and skills. Let’s turn our attention to Pasi Sahlberg’s leadership in Finland, where creative play and equality are valued above excellence as deemed by standardized assessments. The lesson from Finland, allow children to develop in a more natural way, through investigation, play, and a focus on community.

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