Thursday, October 4, 2007

Investing Our Wisdom in Their Potential

Teacher Preparation and the New Story of Learning


Personally, this is an important time in my grandchildren’s educational lives. My oldest grandson enters high school this fall. Two other grandchildren enter kindergarten and preschool. My youngest grandchild began to crawl last week. Four years ago MASCD joined a coalition to improve instruction in every classroom throughout the state by improving educator quality.1 If the legislation we propose for improving educator quality had passed, children like my grandchildren would be benefiting from the improvements in schools now. For some reason we haven’t been able to convey the urgency of our plea.

  • A professional knowledge base exists for education.
  • We must ensure that all ten personnel processes that determine educator quality, including teacher preparation, are rooted in the professional knowledge base.
  • The promise of excellent classrooms lies in significantly improving the quality of teachers and administrators.
  • The promise lies in what teachers do instructionally, by design, each day to educate “whole” children.
  • Together we can transform our classrooms, schools and communities so they all are significant learning environments for our children and grandchildren.

The National Governors’ Association reported that for every 100 students entering 9th grade, 82 will not complete a bachelor’s degree within six years or an Associate’s Degree within three years.2 Which of our children and grandchildren will they be? What will society be like with a citizenship that lacks the intellectual stamina to write our literature, paint out masterpieces, compose our symphonies, and invent creative solutions to our pressing environmental and human problems? The list of opportunities and challenges is endless; we need to develop the talent of every child to his/her highest potential for a better future.

Can we envision?

Can we envision schools where all teachers teach our students through powerful learning experiences ~ all of the time? Can we envision a state that defines proficiency in terms of students creating, innovating, collaborating, thinking critically, solving problems, leading, and being personally and socially responsible?

Currently we have some classrooms and schools where teachers design instruction so students develop these new proficiencies. Teachers who impress their communities with their ability to teach in powerful ways are sometimes selected as Teacher of the Year and we feature their accomplishments as models for other teachers to emulate. There are many teachers who deserve to be so recognized. Parents want to ensure that their children get those teachers. Often parents are willing to spend lots of influence to get the best teacher for their sons and daughters. They advocate in whatever way they can within the system.

If the system does not respond to their influence, some parents are willing to spend their money to ensure their children have those experiences. They move into communities that have a reputation for “good” schools. When parents conclude that only a private school can offer their child those experiences, they work hard to ensure that their children are accepted to those schools. However, what happens to the students whose parents do not have influence or the money to secure powerful learning experiences for their children? Does that condition explain why 82 out of 100 high school freshmen never receive a college degree?

Wisdom in Anaheim

At the ASCD International Conference in March 2007, Ben Donenberg, Shakespeare Festival/LA Producing Artistic Director, interviewed young people from South Central Los Angeles to find out what they needed from him. “What they need is to feel that we adults in power value them highly enough that we are willing to invest our wisdom in their potential.” Mr. Donenberg and others invested in the youth of South Central LA through an innovative Shakespeare performance program, Will Power to Youth. I bear witness to the outstanding quality of their collective achievement. At the conference second general session on Sunday, March 19, 2007, thousands of educators were moved to tears by the quality of their performance. Well done, student leaders from Will Power to Youth and Mr. Donenberg for Shakespeare Festival LA!

Stephanie Pace Marshall,3 at the same conference, offered us a glimpse of her wisdom, when she spoke of the need to transform schools and learning so students experience a different story of learning, the under story that our actions teach students as young as third grade, if not younger. Here are four of eight characteristics of the “new story of learning” that Ms. Marshall believes students must hear over and over again throughout their sixteen or seventeen years of schooling if they are to believe this story of truths and act in harmony with it.

· Intelligence is not a single number. It is not fixed at your birth.… Creating your own mind is the greatest gift you can give yourself and the world.

· Learning is a social activity. … You will learn more deeply and you will have more fun if you learn with others. Learning flourishes in relationships.

· Understanding big ideas, pursuing questions that matter to you and your community and the world and solving meaningful problems are what real learning is about.

· You are a unique learner. ... Make mistakes, take risks, explore, fail, and ask for help. They are all part of learning. … You have a unique song that no one else in the world can ever sing, and if you don’t sing it, it will never be heard. 4

Mr. Donenberg and Ms. Marshall (Read The Power to Transform) offer much more than I can capture here. Their insights provide a new framework for teacher preparation programs that will graduate teachers who will be ready to transform schools and learning. We can have a significant positive effect on the lives of all children if we can prepare teachers, and administrators, to ensure challenging and engaging experiences for them and find ways in our communities to keep children safe, healthy and supported as ASCD and MASCD advocate in our Whole Child Initiative,

Whole Child Initiative

Above I mentioned the need for teachers to learn how to design their instruction to educate “whole” children. We need our system of educator preparation to ensure that new teachers, and administrators, understand and can demonstrate how to create those types of classrooms and schools. Stephanie Pace Marshall also said in Anaheim that students are born whole and that “…both our experience and our research support the belief that all students will achieve at significantly higher levels of disciplinary and interdisciplinary understanding … if learning experiences are intentionally designed to enable them to do so.” 5 If “a whole child is intellectually active; physically, verbally, socially, and academically competent; empathetic, kind, caring, and fair; creative and curious; disciplined, self-directed, and goal oriented; free; a critical thinker; confident; cared for and valued,” 6 then teachers must be taught how to design all classroom and school activities so children learn in ways that allow them to remain whole.

Readiness Project

This issue of Perspectives comes at a pivotal time in Massachusetts educational history. Governor Deval Patrick has launched his Readiness Project with these words: “Heralding the Commonwealth’s moral and statutory obligation to assure every child access to a world class education to reach his or her full potential, Governor Deval Patrick today named the council that will develop a 10-year strategic plan to continuously improve public education.”7 The Leadership Council will form thirteen subcommittees that will develop priorities for the state’s ten year educational strategic plan. If you were not an educator in the early 1990s when the education reform legislation was formulated and implemented, now is the time to be attentive to the Readiness Project progress so you can influence its outcome with your voice. MASCD will represent you well, but the Governor and your State Representatives and Senators must hear from you. We need you to be an Educator Advocate. 8 Education in Massachusetts will be influenced for the next fifteen years by this strategic plan.


1. See Perspectives, Spring 2007.

2. Ready for Tomorrow: Helping All Students Achieve Secondary and Post Secondary Success, National Governors’ Association, 2003.

3. Founding President of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy® (IMSA) is an internationally-recognized pioneering educational institution created in 1985 by the State of Illinois to develop talent and leadership in mathematics, science and technology teaching and learning. Stephanie Pace Marshall is also the author of The Power to Transform, an insightful new book on the new story of learning that students need to hear throughout their sixteen years in our schools.

4. The “New Story and Landscape of Learning and Schooling,” ASCD Annual Conference, March 19, 2007, Anaheim, CA.

5. .

6. The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action, A Report of the Commission on the Whole Child, ASCD, 2007.

7. Governor Deval Patrick, Executive Office Press Release, August 6, 2007.

8. Go to and click on “Become an Educator Advocate.”

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