Sunday, January 9, 2011

Competition and Cooperation in Public Schools

I love competition. In high school I competed in cross country and track. I loved lining up next to guys with all different colored jerseys on and letting the course decide who was the best. During my time as a classroom teacher I also coached both of these sports. My two favorite coaching events each year were the state cross country and state track meets. Seeing all of those different schools represented and watching all of those kids line up with nothing but a stopwatch and the next 100 or 400 or 3000 meters to separate them. Competition brings out some great characteristics and teaches some important lessons.

I love being an Okoboji Pioneer. I love watching the maroon and white square off against area schools on the field, the court, the track, and more. I also love watching our debaters go toe-to-toe with some of the best schools in the state and the nation.

As much as I love competition, today I want to talk about the need for more cooperation in public education. By cooperating, schools can provide their students with more learning opportunities, as measured both by number and quality. As we have discussed in past posts, I firmly believe that we are preparing our students for a brave new world. We are sending our kids into a world that will expect them to compete for jobs with people not only from around the state and nation, but from around the world. I also believe we need to offer a wide variety of learning experiences as a way to help students identify and build skills and knowledge in their various areas of interest and talent.

Small schools have a difficult time doing this because of limits on number of staff, size and availability of space and supplies, etc. Despite these limitations, if you drove to any one of the several school districts within a 20 mile radius, you would see basically the same programs and offerings repeated at each school. You would, unfortunately, also see very little sharing or cooperation among districts. Small schools have a unique challenge that needs to be addressed with unique solutions.

If you were to stop by a certain classroom in the small Central Iowa school of Van Meter (certified enrollment of 623) you would see, on a daily basis, a classroom filled with around 20 students and being led by two teachers. Doesn't sound very unique you say? What I didn't tell you is that only half of the students and one of the teachers is located in Van Meter Iowa. The other half, and the other teacher, are in Philadelphia, PA. This class is a great example of how, using technology, we can do something we could not before. Each of these sets of students work together with their classmates thousands of miles away to complete class projects and assignments. They learn together, just as they would if they were in the same room. This is cooperation. This is two schools working together to provide a better learning experience than either one could offer alone.

Technology advances and 1:1 computing create the fertile soil in which progressive educators can grow new opportunities for collaboration and expanded learning opportunities. Next week our Okoboji administrative team will join the administrative team from Spirit Lake to begin some very exciting discussions on how our two schools can work together to expand and enrich learning opportunities for students of both districts. Such collaboration, in my humble opinion, is essential to equipping students in small schools with learning opportunities that are just as deep and wide as the ones they could experience in a larger school, with the huge advantage of the individual attention and family climate you can only get in a small community. We don't yet know what direction these opportunities will take. By working together, both schools may be able to offer courses that would never be financially viable to offer alone. I envision a future in which Okoboji students are working collaboratively in classroom settings with students from around Dickinson County, Iowa, and beyond.

This is an exciting time for education.  For the first time we have the technology and tools available to truly expand learning outside our own four walls.  Technology and the ability to connect over time and space are changing at a very rapid pace.  Our job is to make sure the human capital - which will always be the most important part of the equation, is ready to keep pace.

No comments:

Post a Comment