Library access for the 21st century school

How is technology changing today’s school libraries? was the tagline that caught my attention today. In the first of a three-part series on this topic, THE Journal highlighted one school’s library designed around an iCommons concept.

The iCommons serves as a center for learning and academic life. It has a relaxed atmosphere and includes plenty of space for student collaboration and work. It includes smaller work rooms for students and areas with comfortable couches for interaction and discussion. “It is not a ‘sushing’ library” but, rather, a workspace.

The digital library collection includes access to various databases and online full-text books by using sites such as  Questia and Google Books. These sites allow students to access materials 24/7, create their own “virtual bookshelves”, and even mark or highlight information as needed. Since it is all digital, there is never the problem of a resource being checked out and unavailable for student use.

The article highlighted at least two important needs that must be addressed when considering this concept:

1. Necessary media and information literacy training to help students access and evaluate the resources and relevent information in their searches.

2. The importance of educating parents regarding the purpose and use of  a library organized around this concept.

Reference:

McCrea, B. (2011, Oct. 5). iCommons: The library evolved.  Accessed October 7, 2011 through thejournal.com.

Thinking of classsrooms

A blog post on Edweek.org caught my attention today. The author, an educational architect and futurist, noted that far too many discussions on educational reform assume the maintenance of a “failed system” (Nair, 2011, ¶3), which he suggests is the average American classroom. He argues that this “relic, left over from the Industrial Revolution” (¶4) needs to be reconfigured, both physically and pedagogically,  to better suit the instructional demands of teaching and learning in the 21st century. He suggests that the following universal design principles need to be considered to help foster engaging learning opportunities that focus on 21st century skills:

  • personalized
  • safe and secure
  • inquiry-based
  • student-directed
  • collaborative
  • interdisciplinary
  • rigorous and hands-on
  • embodying a culture of excellence and high expectations
  • environmentally conscious
  • offering strong connections to the local community and business
  • globally networked, and
  • setting the stage for lifelong learning.

As I think about my research, I admit that there is nothing new in this list. It does serve, however, as a good reminder. I think that the ideas can help drive successful organization and instruction as we consider a new high school. I still believe that we can consider how, where and with whom students learn best; that teachers would want to work collaboratively on integrated projects; and that the community can serve to resource and support students’ learning opportunities.

I acknowledge that direct instruction is still an important and research-supported instructional strategy. We need to acknowledge its effectiveness and include space for direct instruction to take place. However, the idea of a learning commons continues to rise as an important consideration as a learning space, too, and one in which the design principles above can be implemented easily for student learning.

Reference:

Nair, P. (2010). The classroom is obsolete: It’s time for something new. Accessed August 2, 2011 through Education Week.

 

The challenge of funding …

Every private school begins with a dream. The challenge for the visionaries is to realize the dream.

Marks (2006) highlights the fact that far too many potentially good private schools fail simply on account of a lack of funding. I have not studied private school finance, so his brief article provided a very cursory introduction to private school finance.  The “crib sheet” he provided highlighted categories of expenses that need to be considered in the set-up. These included:

  • determining school location and facility rental
  • necessary building renovations to serve the school population adequately
  • budgeting essential building services, such as landscaping or janitorial services, to support the facilities
  • insurance costs for running the school
  • learning supplies, including computer network, laptops, art supplies, etc.
  • library upkeep and subscriptions
  • budget line for faculty training and professional development support

In the end, the greatest budgetary expense relates to personnel. One aspect that successful new schools plan on to keep staffing costs low is to require as many employees as possible to have a regular role with students. There are no employees with limited direct contact with the students. The notion is that every adult plays a significant or contributory role to student learning, including those with administrative responsibilities. This is meant to minimize costs for solely non-instructional staff members.

Since the lion’s share of the operating budget is tuition- and donation-based, all new school planning needs to address establishing, developing and maintaining a constituency of families and alumni who remain interested in the school’s mission. New parents need to understand the call to Christian education and believe that a Christian high school is a viable education alternative for their children. Similarly, alumni need to be reminded of this call and their commitment as adults to support Christian education at their local school.

Nevertheless, on the question of funding and budget, when God whispers a dream we need the guts to respond …

He will provide.

Reference:

Marks, A., (2006, Nov. 5). Building the Next Dalton. Retrieved July 7, 2011 through New York Magazine (online).

Categorizing my thinking

Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University recently launched the Developing Effective Schools Center (DESC), a national research and development center on identifying programs, practices, processes and policies that make some high schools more effective at reaching certain students than others. The DESC notes that consensus has grown among practitioners and researchers around the essential components of a successful high school. These include quality instruction, a rigorous curriculum, a culture of learning, professional behavior, connections to external communities, systemic use of data, system performance accountability, and learner-centered leadership.

Marzano (2003) reviewed 35 years of research of ‘what works in schools.’ He organized his results into three general factors of  influence on student achievement. These are 1) school-level factors (viable curriculum, challenging goals and effective feedback, parent and community involvement, safe and orderly environment), 2) teacher-level factors (instructional strategies, classroom management, classroom curriculum design), and 3) student-level factors (home atmosphere, learned intelligence and background knowledge, motivation).

As I reviewed the two lists, I wondered if considering these components and categories would be helpful as I continue to organize my thoughts regarding a new Christian high school. It seemed that each component and category could be applied to a Christian education context with little difficulty. I then recalled my recent site visitation experience at Monroe Christian School which introduced me to the accreditation standards that are central Christian Schools International. These are Standards 1) Community, 2) Staff, 3) Students, and 4) Curriculum. I mapped my understanding of the components suggested by DESC and the Marzano categories of what works in schools to the four CSI Standards and decided to include those additional components that a private institution needs to consider. This led to following organizing framework:

1. School

  • centrality of vision and mission of the Christian school (including the philosophical foundation of education/school)
  • connections to external communities (including parent and community involvement)
  • responsibilities & relationships among all participants in the learning process (including the student-level factors of home atmosphere, motivation, and learned intelligence and background knowledge)
  • systemic use of data to guide decision-making and inform system performance
  • facilities

2. Teacher

  • teacher development and support
  • healthy, professional, and biblical teacher leadership
  • developing a culture of learning

3. Students

  • discipleship and development
  • student services & programs
  • enrollment (admissions & retention)
  • graduation requirement

4. Curriculum & Instruction

  • a guaranteed, viable & rigorous curriculum
  • quality instruction & classroom management
  • learning environment
  • educational technology

I am going to start categorize and/or tag my posts in this blog according to this framework. This should help me as I continue to reflect and act upon this “whisper” for a Christian High School.

References:

Christian Schools International. (2006). Vision to action. Retrieved October 12, 2010 at http://www.csionline.org/.

Marzano, R. J. (2003). What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Peabody College of Education. (2010, Fall). Ideas in action. Peabody Reflector. 11.