Lately, I have been interested in what trends are happening in America. Of course, I am mainly interested in how these trends affect education. I have been reading blogs, theological posits, and scholarly journals about changes in our culture and future developments. For example, the trend in media is to make everything individual profile adaptable. Anyone with Netflix or Hulu will see this. Technology is moving to hands-free automaticity in order to remove the human error factor. Look at Google’s, Fords, Tesla, Waymo, Lyft, Uber and other self driving car programs. As a school leader and someone who desires our students to be able to flourish in an everchanging society, I feel the pressure to position the school in a place to provide the teaching and learning needed to address these challenges.
Consumer Students → Innovative Students
I recently read a blog and article about how to turn this generation from consumers to creators. How do we make creators out of students who are known for expecting everything to individually adapt to them? As the role of a teacher changes, so too must that of a student. In the education realm there is a push to transform students from consumers to creators. Much of this movement is driven by technology, which has opened up a new world of possibilities for students who otherwise had to wait until after graduation before they could think of making significant contributions to the real world.
As we investigate how to be more effective, we are seeing more curriculum strategies that lean on real-world application over closed-circuit projects. Students are being asked to interact with their communities and take on the responsibilities of entrepreneurs, rather than just playing the role. These immersive techniques, coupled with follow-up presentations in which students become teachers, open up a much deeper level of understanding. Some educational leaders have gone so far as to invite students to co-develop their own curricula. Obviously, these are more geared for upper grade school students. However, what does this mean to Salem Christian School? How can our students best compete against these students for the college acceptances?
This trend isn’t just about entrepreneurship. Students-as-producers can be found in everything from media production to game design and programming. In fact, we are adding a Computer Aided Design class next year. We look forward to more hands-on activities, facilities, and equipment (think 3D printers) that provide excellent, engaging opportunities to teach digital literacy, citizenship, and creator’s rights.
The Value of an Authentic Christian Education
There has been a push toward an increase in real-world learning experiences. This most certainly will continue into the years to come. More and more schools are recognizing the value of closing the book (literally) in favor of practical learning. In fact, Salem Christian School has created math lab in the high school to provide this framework. Granted, we are not ready to divorce ourselves of traditional books and formats that continue to work just for the new shiny bobbles tempting us. But, the question we hope to answer is, “What is the best way to provide such experiences for students?”
We endeavor to use research, common sense, and experience to determine what is best for teaching and learning at Salem Christian School. Authentic learning can take many forms. Vocational training and apprenticeships give students the freedom to discover and foster their passions. In addition to allowing students to test-drive careers, these real-world experiences also help schools establish relationships within their communities. These partnerships can lead to further collaboration down the road, with business leaders coming to talk in schools or providing on-site demonstrations for students interested in pursuing their fields. Although we are not a vocational school, we’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a few of these opportunities within the Junior Seminar and Senior Seminar courses. However, we are not a vocational school and have not fully engaged in this type of active learning.
Discussions about the value of simulations, activity based methods, and portfolio-based assessments have also been part of the discussions. Simulations, like the “farming in the gilded age” activity featured on Teaching Channel, promote critical thinking, reflection, and problem solving. Portfolios and project based instruction divert focus from pure memorization toward authentic demonstration of learning. They allow students to take ownership of their studies as they find unique and creative ways to display the knowledge they’ve acquired on a particular topic.
Whether students are immersed in business, engineering, design, event planning, or finances, authentic learning experiences help prepare them for higher-ed and work-world success.
Emerging Roles for Teachers
After decades of relatively unchanged form and function, the job description of an American teacher has undergone some significant transformations in a short period of time. The traditional “stand-and-deliver” method of instruction is being pushed out by the “guide-on-the-side” approach, just as the “cemetery” classroom is being replaced with creative, comfortable learning spaces.
Today’s teachers are trending in the direction of mentors and coaches for their students, overseeing activities and providing assistance when needed, but not the helicopter oversight that was once an expectation. Teachers are lecturing less and consulting more, encouraging students to discover and explore their passions in a more flexible manner.
Even grading looks much different than it did 10 years ago. Although, SCS doesn’t anticipate this change, some schools are eliminating exams from their curricula altogether. However we are expecting educators to pay increased attention to each student’s strengths and weaknesses and evaluate their levels of knowledge throughout the course. This is particularly noticeable in the elmenetary school with our implementation of Daily Five, AIMSWeb, and Dibels. We have continued to document the rise of standards-based grading, and those who have adopted it tend to swear by it. However, we are increasingly looking at mastery. This is especially true in the primary grades. How well do our students answer the essential questions of our curriculum? And, how do we communicate this best to students, parents, colleges, and colleagues?
Of course, we can’t discuss the changing role of the teacher without mentioning professional development. Salem Christian School is on the trajectory to lead in the area of professional development, unlike other schools. The slowly changing public school culture has created a bit of a disconnect between instructional training and the skills/traits necessary to be a successful educator. There are waves of initiatives meant to address the lowering or raising of test score. SCS is free of this unfocused approach to teaching and learning. Education sees that effective data strategies are few and far between, and administrators are still far more likely to err on the side of status quo than risk being the first to take action on a new initiative or technology. Salem Christian School embraces the idea of teacher efficacy and advancing teaching and learning. SCS recognizes the need for ongoing and updated professional development that remains a critical talking point, not just for teachers, but for those tasked with leading them as well.
SCS still values candidates’ educational backgrounds far more than their technical knowledge. We want people who understand the fundamentals of teaching and learning. We want people who are innovative and energetic in the classroom. Our students need people who are constantly trying to improve. A strong educational background provides the best platform for future growth.
Essentially, we want our students to be challenged and prepared like the best of the peers in other schools. Salem Christian School wants to provide authentic learning experiences, recognize the changing role of teachers, and address the shift from students as consumers to creators. These are just three of the subjects we expect you to be confronted with in the near future. It’s important to note that none of these are “classroom initiatives,” or programmatic changes that shift a school from its traditional mooring. No matter the person’s role in the education of a child, they will want to stay informed about these developments so the school will be well positioned to adapt with the changing tides and confront the shifting sands of the future.