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Needed: 21st Century Teaching Spaces

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I have been eagerly anticipating the release of the report The State of Our Schools by the Center for Green Schools.  While the report, as you would expect coming from this organization, focuses heavily on environmental and health safety of our physical school buildings, I was also interested in what it might have to tell us about our schools’ readiness to operate in an era of rapidly developing technologies, differentiated staffing models, and virtual teaching and learning.

The report authors zero in on the following key areas:

  • Facilities and Student Behavior
  • Facilities and Health
  • Facilities and Education
  • Facilities and Communities
  • Inequity in School Facility Quality

It is a wealth of data, statistics, and great quotes and it is an important report, calling attention to the inadequacies of many of our school buildings in regard to these key focal areas.  For example, the report notes that:

  • We have not had a comprehensive overview of our school building condition since 1995  - eighteen years ago
  • We would need to commit $542 billion dollars over the next ten years to our physical buildings in order to modernize them; this does not include new construction to provide for increased student enrollments
  • School districts spent $211 billion dollars between 1995 and 2008 in maintaining buildings
  • The report cites studies that tell us that student is higher in schools in better physical condition
  •  Air quality and acoustics affect stress levels of all who learn and work in schools
  • Teacher retention is greater in well-maintained buildings
  • The report provides significant data on the spending inequities between communities located in various zip codes
  • Bill Clinton, who wrote the report preface, notes that, “schools are

currently facing a $271 billion deferred maintenance bill just to bring the buildings up to working

order – approximately $5,450 per student.”

The report is excellent; but it did not address the topics that I most wanted to see, namely, the lack of infrastructure support for technology in many of our buildings, and the inhibitions placed on implementing continuums of professional practice and models of collaborative practice by our outdated physical structures.

In the work that NNSTOY has been engaged in with Digital Promise and  Pearson, looking at implementation of instructional technology in schools, the antiquated infrastructure and inequity of resources has really been driven home.  In Clintondale High School, for example, teachers cannot depend on the technology infrastructure to work on a daily basis; they are doing amazing work regardless in using the flipped classroom model of teaching – but they are doing it without dependence on videos in order to flip.  They have adapted by using smart phones instead.

In thinking about implementing continuum models like those proposed by Art Wise and Molly Lasagna, where we would see multiple teachers with varying levels of expertise in a ‘classroom’ with eighty or more students, many school buildings today simply would be unable to support those models.  The physical space would simply not allow for it.

In contemplating virtual classrooms, with multiple classes of students in different locations joining together to learn and work, many of our schools cannot afford the equipment and Internet connectivity required in order to fully implement.

How can we move to 21st century (and beyond) learning and teaching models in buildings that rely on a design of one teacher per classroom with thirty students, let alone what is inside those classrooms in terms of equipment and technology infrastructure.

The report makes several recommendations, including establishment of an every decade facility survey.  My own hope is that such a survey will include space configuration, technology infrastructure, telecommunications, and equipment.  Until we have 21st century spaces, we can’t truly have 21st century learning.

On a personal note, I realized over the weekend that I have now been your ED for six months.  During that time, we have accomplished a great deal in terms of building and expanding our brand as a revitalized organization.  We have also worked together to find out what you are most interested in regarding policy, practice, and advocacy; improving communications; and establishing our research agenda.

It was a very difficult decision for me to accept this position; the biggest blessing in having done so has been in getting to know so many STOYs.  Well over two hundred of you have personally reached out to me to offer me insights, advice, support, criticism, and to simply engage in conversation; from 1974 forward, I have heard from STOYs in many different locations and situations.  One of the founding members of NSTOY commented to me recently that she hoped that this version of NNSTOY would not lose the camaraderie and closeness that the organization has so richly experienced in the past.  If my experience is typical, and if I have anything to do with it, it absolutely will not.

During these past two months, facing a difficult time as a parent, the support that I have received from NNSTOY members has been sustaining.  I am deeply grateful for my NNSTOY family.

Jessica will have surgery tomorrow both to implant a feeding tube (they were unsuccessful in doing so in less invasive ways) and to explore what might be causing her inability to process food by mouth.  It will be a difficult day and my family will be so hopeful that the doctors will finally be able to find some answers.  I know that many of you will hold Jessica in your hearts, as you have been doing.

Thank you so much for all that you do, and have done, for teaching and learning, and for all that you have done for me and my family.




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