In early July I experienced a leg injury that has kept me from walking the past nine weeks. While I hope to be able to start walking again – hopefully later this week, I have been told that it is likely I will not recover “normal” use of my leg for another eight months. The first several weeks following my week-long stay in the hospital I was dependent upon my wife for just about everything. As time has progressed, I have become mostly independent again, but not without the use of crutches or my little “knee scooter.”
It has been during these weeks that I have had the opportunity to experience my life in a new way. Being temporarily disabled has forced me to see life from a whole new perspective. I have gained a deeper respect, admiration, and empathy for those with either permanent or temporary disabilities; something that could not have occurred had I not been in a similar situation due to the injury. I have learned how difficult it can be to do those “routine” tasks in life, such as showering, dressing, getting to and into my car, running errands, and even sleeping. I now notice, with greater concern, cracks and unevenness in sidewalks, doorway thresholds, the heaviness of doors, the height of items I wish to reach, and the distance between my parked car and my ultimate destination.
I see the world anew as a result of my injury and have experienced some of the challenges of being “disabled,” if only temporarily. While I would not recommend purposely injuring oneself in order to have a new perspective, this experience has opened my eyes to a new way of living and seeing the world.
For 56 ½ years I experienced life in a certain way and in the blink of an eye was required to experience it in another way; learning a great deal in the process. For 150 years students in the United States have experienced “education” in pretty much the same way; a way that was borne of the industrial revolution. Education, in many ways, still resembles the “assembly line” model out of which it was created. This way is no longer “working” to prepare our students for a future that is much different than the past 150 years.
Likely, the vast majority of us have been through school and it is also likely we have a similar shared experience. As a result of our own experiences, it can be easy to believe that this is the way education is “supposed to be.” After all, spending 13 years entrenched in a system tends to influence the way we believe things should be and can lead to the saying, “If it was good enough for me…”
Of the many outcomes of our educational system, the one that most concerns me is the fact that by the end of kindergarten, student enjoyment for learning begins to drop like a rock until about eighth grade, where it levels off at about 30%. The past and current system of education is responsible for that loss of joy in learning, yet it is that system we continue to perpetuate. Our own experiences in school influence us to believe education must happen in a certain way. But, what if it doesn’t? Let me ask that again, “What if it doesn’t?”
How can we begin to see learning and education anew with fresh eyes? I offer that it is through openness and learning. I don’t think it was the injury itself that changed my perspective. Rather, it was new learning about what was necessary to navigate the world that changed my view. The injury was the circumstance but learning was the vehicle.
There is an improved way to “do school” and this is what our transformation efforts in Urbandale are about. We are working to break out of the mold of the current system and develop a new one that brings learning to life and prepares students for a future yet to unfold. The new system, rooted in the philosophy of “continual improvement” will empower students to become active learners whose voices are heard in order to meet their needs. No longer passive recipients of information, students work to turn information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. In this improved system students will learn how to use and apply their knowledge and wisdom in the “real world” by being given “real world” tasks to apply their learning. Students will also learn how to learn, problem solve, think critically, and innovate.
This transformation will not happen overnight. Rather, it will take a focus and a constancy of purpose over time for this to occur. In our fifth year of the transformation process in Urbandale, we are now seeing some of the fruits of our labor in terms of student learning and satisfaction, but we still have a long way to go.
Guiding us are our mission, vision, and values. Moving us forward steadily is the new learning we are doing together as a district. This learning is helping to free us (our thinking, actually) from being held prisoner by the old/current system. This learning, similar to what I have experienced after having injured my leg, is helping us to see education and learning from a new and fresh perspective so that our redesign of the educational system will better meet the current and future needs of our students.
Two things will block our transformation: clinging to a system that no longer meets the needs of its members and an unwillingness to learn and see the world from a new perspective. However, we have the ability and can make the choice to overcome these obstacles.
An event (the injury) brought on the need for me to change my perspective and practices in order to successfully navigate the world, but it has only been through my learning and improving that I have been able to do so. Stagnant results and the destruction of joy in learning should be ample motivation for us to see the world of education anew. It is then up to all of us to continually learn and improve our system so that students can navigate and be successful in this future that is yet to unfold for them.