Start the Year Right

Starting The School Year On The Right Foot

A rewarding way to begin the school year starts with a conference with three people: student, parent and advisor. An advisor means the school has an advisory program or students are with an elementary teacher most of the day.

The conference is best scheduled before the formal school start date, or during the first week of school. Many of the conferences will be in the evening to fit parent work schedules.

At the conference (scheduled by the advisor) parent, student and advisor become acquainted and establish communication means, such as a home or work phone number or email. They start a personal learning plan for the student.

The personal learning plan (PLP) starts with student interests and favorite subjects, then continues with areas where the student or parent suggest student improvement. The result, different for each student, becomes a personal learning plan.

The conference meeting should be relaxed and comfortable, for instance, coffee, treats and a comfortable chair, not a kindergarten chair for the adults. The conference creates an easy conversation with the parent who knows their child best.

The most important result is a plan for the student’s success. It helps if the school program allows flexibility and choices as described in School Transformation. Goals, projects and classes become the path to success.

The final step schedules periodic times for the advisor to meet with the student for progress and adjusting for problems. The parent and advisor set a date for the next conference to review progress. The school ideally sets one or two calendar dates midyear and an end-of-year time for conferences.

Subsequent conferences should be student-managed as in, “ Mom and Dad, here are the goals we set and what I worked on. And here is how it went.” Role-playing the conference with the advisor ahead of time prepares the student for the upcoming conference. The conference discussion should emphasize accomplishments.

Initial and later conferences help the student understand accountability. The conference recognizes the importance of the parent and the means of two-way communication. The school-parent partnership aims for student-management of learning and the importance of responsibility.

The beginning of the year conference validates school-parent partnerships with the student’s progress at the center as it should be.

Wayne B Jennings, retired teacher, principal and author of School Transformation.

My Book: School Transformation

After 60 years with schools and the gathering of 7,500 reports, articles, notes, conference handouts and the experience as a teacher, principal, and university teacher, I’ve written the book, I always planned about different and better ways of schooling.

The book, School Transformation at 450 pages with 500 footnotes (on the bottom of the referenced page), and written without jargon for the general public, educators and policymakers. It has stories, quotes, my experiences, and famous but little-known items, that new generations would have seen go viral.

I’m getting a good reaction, some calling it the education book of the century. It will stimulate a new way of thinking about our outmoded system. They say only I could have written it because of my base of experience and references. I’m certain it will excite you.

School Transformation is available from Amazon.

Innovation Sources

Innovation sources: the following is a partial list of organizations thought to promote progressive education. I omitted others considered primarily training or commercial outfits. There may be errors of omission or mischaracterization, but the list shows how many organizations promote progressive approaches. Scroll down to see the entire list.

  1. Whole-Learner Education
  2. Advancing Education
  3. Alternative Education Resource  Organization
  4. Atlantic Rim Collaborative
  5. Buck Institute for Education
  6. Center for Collaboration
  7. Center for Mental Health in Schools
  8. Center for Reinventing Public Education
  9. Centre for Personalized Learning
  10. Communities in Schools
  11. Competency Works
  12. CTQ Collab
  13. Deeper Learning Network
  14. Digital Badge Program
  15. EdSurge
  16. Education Evolving
  17. Education Reimagined Lab (Note: check link to Transcend)
  18. Education Reimagined
  19. Edutopia
  20. Experiential Learning Depot
  21. Future Lab
  22. Future Ready Schools
  23. generation Learning Challenges
  24. Getting Smart
  25. HundRed
  26. iNACOL
  27. Innovation Sources
  28. Institute for Educational Leadership
  29. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning
  30. International Society for Technology in Education
  31. Just Ask Us
  32. KnowledgeWorks\
  33. LeaningForward
  34. Maker Faire
  35. MindShift Education
  36. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
  37. Nellie Mae Education Foundation
  38. NewTech NetworkNext
  39. Next Generation Learning Challenges
  40. OBESSU Organizing Bureau  European School Student Unions
  41. Open Way Learning
  42. Problem-based Learning
  43. Problem-Based Learning (PBL)
  44. Reimagine School
  45. Reinventing Schools Coalition
  46. Remake Learning
  47. ReSchool Colorado
  48. Spark-Y
  49. Transcend
  50. UNICEF
  52. Up with Learning
  53. Yellow Hats League

School Transformation


Wayne B. Jennings Ph.D.

Key Points:

Four Goals for K-12 Education
• Active, responsible Citizenship
• Productive, satisfying careers
• Lifetime learning
• Personal fulfillment

Seven Problems of Present Schooling
• Disengagement rates of 60 %
• Dropouts (one million per year)
• In-school dropouts
• Achievement gap between poor and middle class
• Suspension levels
• Limitations of the classroom model
• Curve of forgetting

Four Attempts at Fixing Schools
• 100 million each: Miami, Philadelphia, Newark
• Federal grants (millions)
• 1000s of workshops, seminars, books
• Abundant Consultants
• But: Disappointing results

Features of our New Era
• Technology: (more to come, e.g. AI)
• Families have changed
• Race, gender equity and preferences
• Many others

Four Key findings about how the Brain Learns
• Input: the more the better
• Experience: opportunities to test one’s wings
• Feedback: essential to refine learnings
• Safety: lack of anxiety, unconditional positive regard

Nine Basic Principles for Transformed Schools
• Personal learning plans
• Advisor program
• Trust and belief in youth
• Student-directed learning
• Vision, team building, commitment
• Supportive creative team
• Partnerships (many kinds)
• Choices: students and teachers
• Technology
But, (what to do with resisters)

Some Brain Compatible Learning Activities

• Project-based, place-based ventures
• Outdoors, escape from 4 walls
• Community resources (rural also)
• Service experiences
• Field trips, local and extended
• Sparks
• Interdisciplinary
• Exchanges, schools, rural, urban, ethnicity
• Reflection
• Photography, video tape, editing
• Drama, debate
• Fine arts, practical arts
• Sports, recreation
• Oral and written history
• Writing: stories, newspapers
• Internships, Shadow studies
• Decision making, democracy, PP
• Learned expertise, geniuses
• Exhibitions, public presentations
• Restorative practices
• Pupil-teacher planning
• Student as a resource
• Camping
• Competencies (Badging)

Quotes on Learning

“The person who grabs a cat by the tail learns about 44 percent faster than those just watching.” (Mark Twain) quote from School Transformation.

“I don’t blame teachers and administrators for school shortcomings. They were trained for their roles and are given little wiggle room. They work diligently and creatively to make the current system effective. They would change the system if they had the authority, time, and encouragement to do so.” From School Transformation

Winston Churchill is thought to have said,  I love learning. But I don’t always like being taught.

I have never let schooling interfere with my education. Mark Twain.

Boy says to friend, “I taught my dog to talk.” Friend, “Come on! Dogs can’t talk. Show me.” Boy, “I said I taught him. I didn’t say he learned it.”

People today do not even know what children are actually like. They only know what children are like in schools. (Carol Black)

The brain is made for learning. It doesn’t need to be taught how to learn, just as the stomach doesn’t need to be taught how to extract nutrients from food. (Leslie Hart)

The president of the dog food company said to salespeople at their annual meeting, “We have best dog food factory in the world. “The sales staff said, “yea.” The president said, “We have the best dog food anywhere.” The sales staff said, “yea.” The president said, “If we have the best factory and we have the best sales staff, then “Why isn’t our dog food selling?” There was silence in the room. Finally, an old blind man sitting in the last row said, “Because dogs hate the stuff.” (Gary Phillips in a metaphor about teaching)


New Schools for a New Era

Today’s schools aren’t a good fit for the modern era notwithstanding the dedication of teachers and principals. School people work hard with a model developed 120 years ago. Everyone trying to improve schools struggles to get a little more mileage from the conventional system. They succeed to an extent but the present model is reaching an upper limit. It’s like trying to make a typewriter into a word processor.

Schools aren’t good enough in many areas: too many students are bored and disengaged; participatory democratic citizenship skills like critical thinking are poorly developed and little practiced in school; 20th-century skills, community participation; and personal health and talents are not valued or measured. Modern principles of learning are not applied. Too much talent goes wasted. Today’s schools are a poor fit for the Internet age.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We will share ideas on this site to:

  • Clarify the shortcomings of today’s schools. This won’t rely on international comparisons and test scores. This will be describing Old Schools in a New Era page.
  •  We will describe the new era and its implications for schools including how students learn and the societal forces impacting schools. This will be the New Era page.
  • Provide a new conceptualization of schooling for this new era.

I want to see schools (even the word “school” conjures an image and gets in the way of rethinking) that are places of action, where school doors swing both ways tapping the goldmine of community resources, where schools are a beehive of active students in a variety of ventures and expression, and where teachers and administrators draw upon their creativity in creating schooling fitting our changing democracy.