Links and Reflections on Schools as Ecosystems

On Friday, GothamSchools posted a piece I wrote that ties directly into our vision of schools as ecosystems. I outlined the fundamental importance of relationships in a school, and how the attempt to disaggregate an individual teacher’s impact on a student is misguided. I then proposed some concrete ways we could hold schools accountable for providing a solid education to children:

So what should we be measuring, then? How can we possibly hold schools accountable for the learning of the students they are responsible for? 

My advice is to recognize the importance of relationships in a school in raising student achievement, and seek a means of measuring the context of a school, such as the trust and strength of relationships between the adults in the building, the ratio of positive to negative words used, and the quality of the physical environment. We can stop shelling out public money yearly to testing corporations, and instead adopt a randomized testing schedule, and we could put some of that money instead towards the much more important face-to-face accountability of leaders stepping foot into schools, rather than examining disaggregated data dissociated from its context. This could be coupled with some modified form of the inspectorate model currently used in the United Kingdom. 

But contexts alone are not the only service that schools provide. Schools deliver content to students, and all too often, the critical importance of a strong curriculum is completely ignored. We can measure the strength of a school’s curriculum by assessing how well it is horizontally and vertically aligned, as well as in how well it targets and addresses student gaps in background knowledge. 

Let’s stop pretending, therefore, that students are products. It takes a whole school to educate a whole child. And that whole school must have a strong, coherent curriculum that is delivered in an environment of trust and respect that promotes well-being, risk-taking, and empathy.

On Saturday, I presented an overview of Schools as Ecosystems at EdCampNYC. It was a good experience, as it forced me to grapple with how to articulate the framework as something more than a mere metaphor. I want to thank the educators in attendance for their lively discussions and critical feedback.

What went well:

  • I gained valuable insight into areas of thought I need to work on clarifying and refining, such as how underlying values of schools as ecosystems might tie concretely into policy measures, or what catch-all terms like “integration” really would look like in application, or how content taught in a school could be better aligned to the local economy
  • Many of the share outs from educators during the session served–in my mind–to reinforce further the great need for a shift in education reform towards the measures Will and I are advocating for
  • I learned that teachers want to know what they can do NOW to shift towards developing their schools and classrooms as an ecosystem
What I need to work on:
  • One science teacher’s feedback to me after the session was that Schools as Ecosystems as a model was “cute.” I’d like to transform that perspective into “viable!”
  • Another teacher’s feedback was that the model is “radical.” I don’t think of it in that way — though I suppose if we are pushing against the status quo of current education reform perspectives, it might be considered so. But I think I’d prefer our model to be considered simply a better way of doing things
  • Much of the questioning and feedback from teachers pushed me to try make my ideas more concrete and actionable — this was great pushback, because this is exactly why I wanted to put it out there — to find out how I can better develop it as a methodology, not simply as a metaphor
It was nice to learn directly from other educators about their thoughts, professional perspectives about their respective school environments, and feelings about schools as ecosystems as a potential framework for approaching education reform. Thank you again for participating and helping me forward this positive vision of education reform.

One thought on “Links and Reflections on Schools as Ecosystems

  1. Glad to hear the EdCamp discussion was fruitful. On the word “radical,” I think it's an interesting point to consider. Given the state of education reform, our model is radical, but that's more of a comment on ed reform than on the viability of our model. In a rational educational world, I think (hope?) our model would seem like common sense.

    But then, I'm biased…


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