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Michael Hynes is the superintendent of schools in the Port Washington school district on Long Island in New York. He is one of the most creative, innovative, and unconventional thinkers in education today. His new book was just published, offering advice to school leaders and, frankly, to everyone, about what is most important in life.
Mike Hynes is my candidate for the next State Commissioner of Education in New York. He has fresh ideas, deep experience, and values the well-being of children more than test scores.
In this brief essay, he outlines what schools should do after the pandemic.
Now is the time for our school leaders to generate a new compelling philosophy of education and an innovative architecture for a just and humane school system. We must refocus our energy on a foundation built on a sense of purpose, forging relationships and maximizing the potential and talents of all children. Let’s take advantage of the possibility that our nation’s attention can shift 180 degrees, from obsessing over test scores and accountability to an entirely different paradigm of physical, mental, and emotional well-being for students and staff.
It is our collective responsibility to foster engaging and meaningful environments when educating our children in the new era of a post pandemic education. As the great philosopher John Dewey stated over one hundred years ago, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” The first sentence in the 2018 World Bank Group’s Flagship Report- Learning: To Realize Education’s Promise states, “Schooling is not the same as learning.” I couldn’t agree more. The report continues to speak about that as a society, we must learn to realize education’s promise.
Now is this the time to revolutionize this antiquated system built on old structures and ideologies. I recommend we change the purpose of schooling to the following core values:
· Emphasize well-being. Make child and teacher well-being a top priority in all schools, as engines of learning and system efficiency.
· Upgrade testing and other assessments. Stop the standardized testing of children in grades 3-8, and “opt-up” to higher-quality assessments by classroom teachers. Eliminate the ranking and sorting of children based on standardized testing. Train students in self-assessment, and require only one comprehensive testing period to graduate from high school.
· Invest resources fairly. Fund schools equitably on the basis of need. Provide small class sizes.
· Boost learning through physical activity. Give children multiple outdoor free-play recess breaks throughout the school day to boost their well-being and performance. We observed schools in Finland that give children four 15-minute free-play breaks a day.
· Change the focus. Create an emotional atmosphere and physical environment of warmth, comfort and safety so that children are happy and eager to come to school. Teach not just basic skills, but also arts, crafts, music, civics, ethics, home economics and life skills.
· Make homework efficient. Reduce the homework load in elementary and middle schools to no more than 30 minutes per night, and make it responsibility-based rather than stress-based.
· Trust educators and children. Give them professional respect, creative freedom and autonomy, including the ability to experiment, take manageable risks and fail in the pursuit of success.
· Improve, expand and destigmatize vocational and technical education. Encourage more students to attend schools in which they can acquire valuable career/trade skills.
In short, if we learn anything at all from this pandemic, we should clearly recognize that we need our teachers more than ever before. It’s imperative that schools focus on a balanced approach to education, one that embraces physical, emotional, cognitive and social growth. We have an enormous amount of work to do, but our children deserve nothing less.
If you agree, please send his essay to every school board member you know and to anyone else who is interested in finding a new way to educate our children, one that develops their well-being and joy in learning, instead of subjecting them to an endless and useless series of standardized tests.