Obama’s State of the Union speech is tonight. Reflecting on the past year, I find it has been a year of recovery. States, individuals, businesses, and organizations have been dramatically impacted by the economy. What has happened in the U.S. has had resounding ripple effects around the world and fortunately for some, some countries are in better shape than we are here. So if last year’s theme was recovery, what should we look forward to in 2010? We will find in some cases it will be more of the same. Recovery won’t happen simultaneously in all sectors. In fact, some areas may face more hardships before truly embarking on recovery. And sometimes the road will be bumpy. Yet, these things are important: that we do our best to get it right — with caring, with competence, and with an eye on the future and guidance from the past.
In education, we have historic opportunities to recreate and reinvent. NCLB does need to be overhauled and ARRA and Race to the Top offer tremendous opportunities for schools. While in India, as an Assistant Principal of a small school, I found that I could initiate change and implement policies without the burden of layers of bureaucracy. As with small, start-up businesses, this allowed me to be nimble. We moved quickly towards student-driven instruction and individual plans for students as adjustments were made in curriculum and instruction to find a better match between student skills and needs and school expectations. I worked closely with teachers to help them gain confidence and to learn to trust that establishing a good educational foundation would help students advance their knowledge and skills. This wasn’t always easy — some of it seems counterintuitive. The end goal: excellent education and good scores on Cambridge exams demanded an aggressive approach to learning. However, there are times when simply pushing students and teachers creates frustration and confusion. I conveyed that we must trust that time would not move in a linear fashion, but rather that by slowing down (and attending to basics) right now that we would move ahead more quickly later.
The opportunity educators face in 2010 is to expand our vision, to move towards refining our instructional approaches, and to continue to correct injustices, our false starts, and imperfections. To me it is not about creating a “one size fits all education” but rather about helping teachers customize educational experiences so that youth are fully engaged and responsive. It means tuning into and listening to students — actually hearing beyond their words and actions — to reflect on the gestalt, even as we handle the day to day situations that arise.
In this era, in 2010, as we work to improve assessments, we have an opportunity to improve instruction, to help youth reach a deeper understanding, and to engage with many in an exciting journey as we move forward. While states, commissions, educational consortia, researchers, and administrators may not be able to be as nimble as I was in India, we do have an opporunity to reflect, to do our part not to be a part of the educational problem, to uphold and promote visions, and to serve youth by bringing our best to the table.