Journal of Educational Controversy


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Author Sam Chaltain asks "What (& Where) Are the World’s Most Transformational Schools?"

Editor: Readers will remember Sam Chaltain's article, "Ways of Seeing (and of Being Seen): Visibility in Schools," in our special issue on "Schooling as if Democracy Matters," in our winter 2008 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy. We will be reviewing Sam's book, American Schools, The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community, in the upcoming issue. In the post below, Sam asks for nominees of the world's most transformational schools using the criteria of the QED Foundation’s Transformational Change Model?
 We'd like to nominate the Whatcom Day Academy, our partner school in the League of Democratic Schools, as a transformational school. Our upcoming issue of the journal on "The Education and Schools our Children Deserve" will have an article about the school in a multi-media presentation so readers and viewers can see actual video of classroom practices. See our continuing column on other unique schools on this blog under the label "innovative schools."
We will provide a list of the nominees for transformational schools that Sam publishes in a future post. We wish to thank the author for permission to reprint his article.

What (& Where) Are the World’s Most Transformational Schools?

by Sam Chaltain
 OK, people, let’s get specific: Out of all the schools in the world, which ones are the most transformational when it comes to imagining a new way to think about teaching and learning in the 21st century?

There are a lot of inspiring schools out there, so I want to repeat: which are the most transformational – by which I mean schools that are demonstrating, by policy and practice, 10 or more of the 22 core categories from QED Foundation’s Transformational Change Model?

What I find so useful about the QED model (scroll down a bit on their home page to see it) is the way it identifies the central pillars of a high-quality education, and then demarcates what each pillar looks like in a traditional, transitional, and transformational setting. In a traditional school, for example, we tend to assume the student bears the primary responsibility for learning; in a transitional environment, that responsibility shifts to the teacher (see, e.g., just about every recently proposed accountability policy in the U.S.); but in a transformational context, the responsibility is shared via a learning team that includes, and extends beyond, teacher and student.

Of course, learning teams are just one part of a holistic system of environmental conditions. That’s why, taken together, the QED change model helps clarify what we need, and which stages our own evolution will need to pass through, in order to pull K-12 schooling out of the Industrial-era model and into a new, Democratic-era paradigm.

Because that sort of clarity is in short supply, too often we hold up models of school reform that are, at best, examples of transitional progress, not transformational change.

With that caveat in place, please help me find the best set of transformational schools the world has to offer – and please ground your recommendations in the QED change model.

I’ll start the bidding with two examples, and a sample of the ways in which the school is modeling transformational practices:

Science Leadership Academy (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) – SLA is an inquiry-driven high school that opened its doors in 2006. Students at SLA learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes.

Selected Transformational Practices:

•Philosophy: Traditional – Coverage; Transitional – Depth/Breadth; Transformational – Standards-based Inquiry

•Goals: Traditional – Test Results Targets; Transitional – Curricular goals; Transformational – Learner Aspirations & Life Options

•Assessment: Traditional – Of Learning; Transitional – For Learning; Transformational – As Learning

•Educator Development: Traditional – Re-certification Hours; Transitional – Group Learning; Transformational – Collaborative Inquiry

Riverside School (Ahmedabad, India) — Riverside offers a curriculum and experiences of engagement with the city that enables children to better understand their skills, potential, and responsibilities as citizens. It is also developing social intervention initiatives in the city to provide a wide array of activities (cultural, instructional, and recreational) that can be synchronized with the regular school curriculum.

Selected transformational practices:

•Model of Success is Based On: Traditional – The Willing and Able; Transitional – Inclusion; Transformational – Racial and Social Justice

•Context for Learning: Traditional – Classroom; Transitional – School; Transformational – Learning Community

•When/Where Learning Happens: Traditional – In School; Transitional – Coordination between in- and out-of-school; Transformational – Anywhere/Everywhere

•Student Investment: Traditional – Requirements; Transitional – Engagement; Transformational – Passion

To be sure, Riverside and SLA are just two of the schools out there doing several things really well, and being very intentional about the way they do so. What other schools are demonstrating a transformational approach to teaching and learning? And in which specific ways are they doing so?

I look forward to your recommendations and ideas.

(This article also appeared in the Huffington Post)