Transforming School Cultures

Transforming School Cultures

Transforming School Cultures

Transforming School Cultures

Excerpt

At no point in history has the importance of education been greater. Yet, instead of rising to the challenge, schools are often mired in a morass of conflicting expectations and demands, overwhelmed by an array of new things to try and to do. In this context, what is often lost--and what is desperately needed--is a vision of school and schooling, an overall view of purpose and direction. In the ensuing pages, we speak to this need. A vision of school is presented that can--and we feel should--guide school improvement and reform.

At the heart of this vision is a particular kind of culture, a complex of beliefs and values about what is worth doing in school and why. Briefly, the culture that is needed focuses students' attention on learning, challenge, and effort. It stresses the inherent worth and value of learning and minimizes the stress on relative ability and comparative achievement. Most especially, the focus is on the growth and progress of each student, not the demonstration of ability relative to others. In a word, we promote a "taskfocused" rather than an "ability-focused" context for instruction and personal development.

Although this concept of school is based on an increasingly large body of knowledge, it has not as yet been extensively applied. To their detriment, and certainly to the harm of their students, many educators view schooling as a competitive game in which some win and others lose. This view is expressed in the way students are recognized, evaluated, and grouped as well as in the quality of academic work they are given. We describe not only what can but what actually does happen when schools and classrooms adopt a task focus. Not only does the level of student engagement increase, the quality of what is done is decidedly different from when there is an ability focus. An emphasis on task goals encourages the use of adaptive learning strategies and a thoughtful approach to subject matter. Ability goals encourage behavior that may suffice in the short term but effectively undermines the development of, commitment to, and capacity for becoming a "life-long learner."

However, this volume goes beyond making a case against school as a venue for academic competition. It lays out what can be done to move schools toward a focus on learning and growth. Building directly on current . . .

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