20/20 represents the gold standard in the vision and eye care industry. In the field of ophthalmology, 20/20 equals clarity. It suggests that the visual information delivered to our brain and our other senses will be optimal, allowing us to make reasoned assumptions, appropriate decisions and to behave accordingly. Any conditions that compromise this intended promise of visual acuity and clarity are taken seriously and are addressed appropriately.
We, too, the in field of K-12 education, desire clarity. And there are unquestionably our versions of astigmatisms, cataracts, glaucoma and other ailments and diseases that afflict our desire for it. We know these obstacles by different terms. Tradition, poverty, inequity, achievement gaps, funding, public perception, politics, test scores. However, unlike our medical experts, we do not respond to these conditions with the same degree of urgency and purpose. We may acknowledge that a set of problems exist. But, we will be content to, what I call, “admire the problem” prior to moving forward; and even then often lacking the swiftness and razor-sharp precision that these challenges require of us.
It’s about “vision.” An interesting word.
Our medical colleagues are concerned with the first definition of the word “vision” found in the on-line dictionary: “the faculty or state of being able to see.” For them, their responses are clear cut. “You’re having difficulty seeing? Well, try these glasses or contact lenses or this surgery. We can get you closer to that optimal 20/20.”
Educators, however, should be concerned with the second definition of this word, vision: “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom, a mental image of what the future will or could be like.” The burden of the definition that directly applies to educators is certainly not clear cut. Quite the opposite.
I had a rich thirty-five year career in public education; twenty-one of those years in administrative assignments and functions. From the perspective of my experience, I am confident (though somewhat embarrassed) by the following fact. Systems of public education are reluctant or reticent to “plan the future with imagination or wisdom” or engage in considering “what the future will or could be like.”
No, our current systems are too busy reacting, and are too consumed with investing their energies in complaining about what “should have been.” Our sad application of this rich word ,“vision,” is often focused in the rear view mirror; looking at where’ve been, rather than where we could, or should, be headed. Our 20/20 vision is in hindsight. (Let that wound sting a little.)
I can hear the reactions of some of my compatriots, particularly those in district or system-wide leadership roles. Their response will go something like this. “We regularly engage in long-range strategic planning, with the end result being measurable goals from which we hold the system, and each other, accountable.”
Great! But, that is not necessarily visionary. Re-arranging the deck chairs is not the same as planning the future with ”imagination and wisdom.” I’m not raising this criticism for the fun of it. Sad, but true, our educational system lacks visionary initiative. (Take a minute to recover from these new blows.)
There’s good news! It’s the year 2020. A brand new year in a brand new decade. As an adjective, the word “new” (new year, new decade) invites the exploration of something different, or something that has not existed before. “New” exudes promise and opportunity. I certainly hope that we don’t squander this opportunity. This is our chance; the chance for systems, for those that work within them, and those the systems are designed to serve, to ask a profoundly simple question. “What if?” I raise these questions in my book, The Education Kids Deserve. They’re exciting. And they’re timely in this first year of a new decade.
What if . . . we could revolutionize, and perhaps increase the reward factor of the craft of teaching?
What if . . . we could offer students genuine opportunities to experience instructional relevance while gaining the full range of skills they will need to best realize their individual potential?
What if . . . we could effectively wrestle our educational system into the 21st century?
What if . . . we could implement significant changes without a windfall of new resources?
Worthy of the effort? Definitely!
Step 1: Consider the wisdom of Stephen Covey in his blockbuster text The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
“Begin with the end in mind.”
Step 2: Challenge yourself to address the imbedded questions that Tony Wagner raised in his 2008 book, The Global Achievement Gap. (This isn’t the first time I’ve referenced this quote, as anyone who follows my writing can attest. But, it bears repeating.)
“Teaching all students to think and be curious is much more than a technical problem for which educators, alone, are accountable. More professional development for teachers and better text books and tests, though necessary, are insufficient as solutions. The problem goes much deeper - to the very way we conceive of the purpose and experience of schooling and what we expect our high school graduates to know and be able to do."
(Bolding of key words or phrases is mine for emphasis.)
Happy New Year! Here’s to new opportunities to create new clarity, assuring that students in 2020 will benefit from 20/20 instruction that is truly visionary.