Friday, October 14, 2011

What we learn from Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs was an amazing individual.
His innovative and creative spirit spawned the Apple Corporation and he blazed a trail into all the areas of personal computing and technology that we use in our everyday lives. He embodied a truly unique spirit and was instrumental in changing the manner schools use technology to support instruction.
And I write all this on a PC computer. What a tribute!
As Superintendent of Bethlehem Central I work to meet the demands of the State in implementing the mandates of testing, testing and more testing in order to prove whether our school district is doing an excellent job of teaching students. And, then I am struck with the realization in the form of a question:
Will our schools ever produce another Steve Jobs?
Do we inspire children to be creative? Or, do we deny them this opportunity due to the structure of how our schools run currently?
Last week, on ABC's 20/20, Chris Cuomo did an excellent piece on the life of Steve Jobs. He summed up the inventor's life in seven rules that guided his work and achievements. These were derived from his comments, actions, and presentations. In many ways, they sum up the direction we need to move as a school district. Allow me to paraphrase his thoughts.
Steve Jobs' rules for life as applied to schools:
Teachers are highly trained individuals that can offer so much to children through their knowledge and capabilities. Whether it is reading, writing, math, science or technology, teachers can truly be an inspiration to children if they work in an unfettered manner free of the assertions and assumptions of educational testing and the mediocrity it breeds. They entered the profession to do what they do best, and that is to motivate and inspire children. In spite of the demands from our politicians, they try every day to do just that.
Despite the budgetary problems BC had last year, we developed a "bold vision" to immerse our students and the school community into 21st Century learning by employing personal devices wherever and whenever possible. We have committed ourselves to preparing students to be the next inventors of the newest technologies and to be ready for a future that will soon envelop us.
Unfortunately, the community rejected our idea to make this dream a reality, but the school district continues to find a way to make this dream a reality in everything we do, say and teach.
3) SAY NO TO A 1,000 THINGS.
In other words, simplify our profession. This will be difficult given the interference of the politicians that care more about winning votes than preparing students for the 21st Century challenges. But, as a school district we need to thrive to push back against the absurd demands that come to us from the state, even though we must test, test and test more to make this standard of mediocrity conform to the political rhetoric in Albany and Washington.
In another time, we hope to say no to the 1,000 mandates that were supposed to be curtailed in March, and still haunt our inability to fund the other things that will truly make a difference for students.
Many of us, teachers, administrators, support staff and students are stretching our comfort levels to learn new things. No matter what the venue is, we need to encourage organizational learning and that includes all of our school-community members. If everyone experienced one new idea each month we would be light years into the future of preparing children to do their best.
In schools we should be selling dreams of educational success and creative opportunities, and not the bill of goods found in a report card or testing manual. With over 38 years in education I can confidently say that children learn best when they are challenged to confront a new reality. To do that we should mandate time each week in class for children to confront creative projects and problem solving activities.
Schools are great learning environments for super experiences that challenge and motivate people. From Nature's Classroom in grade 5 to Lab School active learning and research environments in high school, our district is filled with many "insanely" great experiences. We need to do more of them and encourage some risk taking in the process.
When Steve Jobs presented the idea of the iPhone, he changed the face of telecommunications and smartphone computers forever. In education we need to master a similar message that attracts the creative genius of children to master their potential in order to confront new realities.
The message in what I have presented is that public school districts need to unshackle themselves from the mediocrity of what the established bureaucracy have created and be allowed to reach for the stars. For, I am quite concerned that if we do not, there will be little chance of inspiring the next innovator of future challenges.
Let's hope we all learn something from people like Steve Jobs.

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