The data on our nation’s schools clearly indicate a problem with current teaching and learning. For example
• The nation’s high school graduation rate in 2012-2013 was 81%, the highest level since states adopted a new uniform way of calculating graduation rates.
• In 2014, our nation’s cognitive skills and educational attainment ranking was fourteenth out of the forty countries ranked.
• In 2015, 25% of twelfth grade students performed at or above the Proficient achievement level in mathematics and 37% in reading.
One-out of five students is not graduating from high school, and of those who are graduating, only one-in-four is proficient in mathematics. Despite improvements in technology, curriculum innovation, and educational resources available, the majority of schools are not soaring. Despite more money budgeted to improve education, so many of our schools continue to lag behind. Why? As I frequently say to educators, “School organizations and school personnel are stuck in the mindset of chickenship, not EAGLESHIP.” Too many schools are set in chickenship. EAGLESHIP personnel and practices are needed to help them soar.
I believe the majority of school organizations lack a clear focus of leadership, of teaching and learning goals and of communication. The tendency is to search for the latest solution to improve the teaching and learning; school personnel are often heard talking about the latest fad—the latest programs and strategies expected to improve a school’s success. Through the decades, ideas such as open classrooms, workstations, cooperative learning and other fads have come and gone.
There have been waves of new resources, programs, and strategies successfully investigated and implemented as a means to improve the quality of authentic teaching and learning. These ideas have worked for some schools, possibly many, and the thinking is that they will work for all. Educators think, "This is what worked for so-and-so, let’s try that!" A similar line of thinking is often used with diet fads that come and go. However, whether with diets or with education, there is no set program that works for everyone.
There are fundamentals that must be part of the decision-making process and the implementation. When schools ignore these principles, the programs and strategies are seen as a fix, too often a desired, immediate fix. Many are selected with the "fix-it" line of thinking. “This will fix our school’s academic dilemma.”
I am currently working with Dr. Denise Forrest, founder of T.E.L.L., (tellourchildren.org) on a book, premiering this summer that will feature the evolutionary journey of Jostens Renaissance schools since January 20, 1984. Dr. Forrest cites Everyday Math as a good example of this “fix it” syndrome. This was an elementary school mathematics program popular in the late 1990s. It remains in some schools today as their curricular resource, while other schools could not get rid of the curriculum soon enough. Why the two drastically different points of view? Designers of Everyday Math spiraled each day’s instruction in three parts: review, new learning, and plant the seed for future learning. However, teachers who were not trained with this fundamental principle believed they were to teach the day’s topics, and to these teachers, the instruction made no sense. The day’s topics were thought of as random lists and not cohesive. Yet, many teachers, who were properly trained and reminded of the principles, experienced the intended success in the program.
All programs or strategies have a set of principles to describe the context for success. The personnel implementing them must be aware of theses principles. They must also agree with the principles, or in the end, it will be just another fad.
Principles provide the foundation for why and how something works. Principles are much like natural laws - for example the law of gravity. Regardless of whether you know it, understand it or even agree with it; the law, like the principle, is no respecter of persons and always applies. Principles are timeless and self-evident; they apply every time and everywhere. They are the foundation for decision-making and truth.
When schools adopt practices and programs to improve their productivity, the principles for successful understanding and implementation are often ignored. These strategies do not work largely because the subjective and situational factors are not taken into account. Furthermore, the majority of schools do not consider their own unique subjective and situational factors when deciding which programs or strategies are best for them. In general, schools lack guiding principles for their own existence. School organizations lack timeless and self-evident details on which to base their decisions. Principles are the keystone of why and how we operate every single day.
Jostens Renaissance is not a set program or practice to implement; it is a set of 10 core building blocks for operating a school efficiently (doing things right) and effectively (doing the right things). As Stephen Covey reminds us, "Too many of our ladders are leaning against the wrong wall." The ten principles define a learning culture and climate where everyone in the school has the potential to soar. The Renaissance elements lay the foundation for teaching & learning goals, culture & climate, edification, and sustainability—these four tranches enable schools to focus on the essence of every institution from kindergarten to university. Hence, when educators select programs, strategies, or when making every day decisions, the elements of Jostens Renaissance empower them to effectively and efficiently run their institutions for all stakeholders community-wide.
Jostens Renaissance Education keeps everyone focused on the most important responsibility of the school organization—Teaching-n-Learning. Far too many school systems today are distracted by testing, curriculum, policies and regulations. Frequently school personnel are so focused on what isn’t efficient or/and effective, as well as blaming failing students, parents, and one another that they are distracted daily from their quintessential responsibility—Teaching-n-Learning!
If you walk into a school, is it evident that Teaching-n-Learning are most important? Walk into any high school and many middle schools; the predominant image is a showcase of athletic accomplishments. Obviously, athletics is important. However, is this the reason schools are built? What is most important must be on display! The academic image should be “visible, tangible, and walk-aroundable”--seen as you walk through the halls. The image should be obvious; this is an organization dedicated, first and foremost, to Teaching-n-Learning. The Jostens Renaissance Principles help schools define, establish, maintain, and sustain their academic images.
The third component for efficient and effective schools is communication. What a school communicates becomes its image. Schools broadcast their image by what is displayed in their building, the correspondence sent to one another and their community, as well as the every day interactions that occur. A school communicates its image by what is showcased in the entry, in the halls, as well as in every office and classroom. These revealing interactions are emblematic of what is valued there. The message tells what and how well the school organization Teaches, Encourages, Listens, and Loves all stakeholders in the community.
The majority of schools are unaware of the messages they T.E.L.L. to all stakeholders. Unintentionally, schools often T.E.L.L. mixed messages about themselves. When educators evaluate and intentionally T.E.L.L. more precise messages to all stakeholders, the school naturally becomes more grounded in its mission.
Mark your calendar for the 2017 Jostens Renaissance National Conference, July 13 – 15 at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, AZ. The JRNC is a one-of-a-kind experience that brings together action-oriented educators and students who stand for renewing teaching & learning goals, culture & climate, edification, and sustainability in their schools.
"Jostens Renaissance is for everyone at every level. Young educators can fill their toolbox with so many great ideas, and seasoned educators can be recharged and revamp the tools they already know are successful. The venues are luxurious and the atmosphere is exciting. One of the best conferences I have been to in my 28 years of teaching."
– 2016 Attendee from Austin High School