EdVisions is Supporting the Transformation of Public Education

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A new blog post from EdVisions’ own Dr. Ron Newell! Dr. Newell describes the way EdVisions is approaching school transformation, what changes schools can make, and these changes will benefit students and bring the outside world in to prepare them better for life after graduation.

Dr. Ron Newell

Dr. Newell is presently the Director of Assessment for EdVisions, and has served as the Director of Learning Programs for the Gates/EdVisions replication efforts. Dr. Newell was a founder of the Minnesota New Country School and EdVisions Cooperative. He has published four books that explain the rationale and practices behind the learning program and governance of the EdVisions Schools. His work with development of coaches training, staff development and evaluation has lead to creation of processes and materials that enhance the development and sustainability of newly created charter schools. His work with Mark Van Ryzin in development of the Hope Study has lead to an assessment of school culture that is becoming nationally recognized.

Dr. Newell was a high school history teacher and coach, a mentor teacher, a college professor, a Director of Clinical Experiences at two universities, and is a founding member of the EdVisions Leaders Center. His interests are learning theory, adolescent development, alternative assessment, decentralized distributive education, use of technology in education, and development of new curriculum for the development of Life-long Learning Skills.

Dr. Newell graduated with a B.A. from St. Olaf College, an M.S. from Minnesota State University – Mankato, and an Ed.D. from the University of South Dakota.

EdVisions is Supporting the Transformation of Public Education

Merriam-Webster defines transformation as a “thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.” Although many of the illustrations of transformation are scientific, biological or related to physics, it is still possible to apply the word to organizations and to people. To transform is defined as “a) to change in composition or structure; b) to change the outward form or appearance of; and c) to change in character or condition.”

One of the missions of EdVisions is to transform existing schools, primarily by adding two major characteristics: teacher-powered schools, meaning teachers have the most say in how a school is run; and to personalize education, so that students have an equal say in what and how they learn necessary skills. Both of these transformative outcomes require changes in composition or structure of a school, so that it’s appearance (at least from within) will change, but mostly to change the character and condition of the school.

Why is this mission important? Why not leave schools as they are? For years the educational system has proclaimed their goal as transforming society. But does the system provide the necessary skills and dispositions for the young to transform society? It appears the primary purpose of schools is to equip students for the status quo. Curriculum and tests are designed to learn about what was and what is – not to utilize the outside world nor the inquisitive nature of the student to discover and create a new world.

This idea of involving the young in creating new worlds can be very scary for adults. Yet young people are doing so all the time, without our control or despite our censure. The world changes, transforms itself, goes through metamorphosis – we can be part of it, or be overwhelmed by it. But most young people have to skirt around school to become part of the world’s changes. One transformation needed is to involve more of the world into schools via problem-based or project-based learning. If it is to be done well, this involves restructuring the school day, possibly changes in the interior structure, the concept of “seat time”, and the relationship between student and teacher. Very scary, indeed!

So, why transform schools? What is it that present-day schools are not doing for students? The first answer would be that the seat-time, curriculum-based, teacher-directed school does not engage nor motivate, and that passing courses and tests does not necessarily prepare young people for thinking and creating. What does a transformed school deliver? There is enough evidence available (although ignored) that project-based schools, ones that are teacher-powered, do deliver problem solving, communication skills, creativity, responsibility, self-direction, time management, collaboration, presentation skills, and a work ethic.

This transformation in development of life skills is the outer layer of an inner transformation – one of dispositional hope, the development of agency and persistence, of developing pathways around obstacles, that develops an expectation of success. It is this transformational learning that delivers the skills to transform people and society. When learners can see themselves actually making a difference, by making a commitment to transform their own attitudes and beliefs, and aspire to higher expectations for themselves and society, then they can change the world.

Examples of a innovative schools within traditional districts – Impact Academy in Lakeville MN and Bluff Creek Elementary in Chanhassen MN

Why transform schools? To transform students into discoverers and creators – to motivate the young to transform themselves and their world. As EdVisions works with schools, or school creators, we envision this primary outcome – to help transform students from passive recipients of knowledge to knowledge creators and world changers. When you see it happen, the re-structured school is not so scary. It is instead inspiring!

EdVisions is taking the lead in school transformation regionally through the Midwest School Transformation Project, thanks to the generous support of the Bush Foundation. Schools in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota in the project will design by rethinking how to use the resources of space, time, personnel, technology and standards to better meet the needs of their students. Unique plans from all eleven schools will lead to student centered environments of relevant connected learning for all children. A strong EdVisions coaching team of fifteen are ready to support the teachers in shifting practices, skills, dispositions and mindsets as the school implements their plan to transform. The coaching focus is to build capacity and ownership within the staff and students, so when the three year project is complete the changes made are irreversible and sustainable, as schools continue on the journey toward more student centered learning.

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