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.

The personal learning plan (PLP) starts with student interests and favorite subjects, then areas where the student or parent suggest improvement. The advisor notes the two—interests and improvements—for later reference. The result, different for each student, becomes a personal learning plan.

The conference meeting should be relaxed and comfortable, for instance, coffee, a cookie 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 and is recognized as such.

The most important result is a plan for the student’s success. It helps if the school program allows flexibility and choices as I wrote 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 has set 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 helps the student with the upcoming conference. The conference discussion should emphasize accomplishments.

The 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 partnership aims for student management of their schooling 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.

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)

Experiential Learning

Learning through experience highlights the difference between active and passive learning experiences. The brain learns more, deeper, and with longer lasting effects from life learning experiences. In one-way learning experiences, such as listening to a lecture or merely observing, learning can occur but with less impact and fades more quickly compared to direct involvement and participation. The school places its students in situations where they have to think, solve problems, interact with others in situations as close to societal life as possible. Students establish goals, create learning plans, establish courses of action and be held accountable for results. This happens most effectively through experience and activities where students hold important roles and exercise responsibility, or what we call learning by doing. With experiential learning everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher. Teachers act as “facilitators of learning” to help students be responsible citizens, achieve fulfilling careers, become self-directed, lead healthy lives and become lifelong learners. The various items around this wheel show a variety of experiential activities followed by descriptions.

The advisor-advisee program is the heart of the school. Each student is assigned to an advisor with an advisory group, the major subdivision of the school. The advisor works with students to establish a Personal Learning Plans. This requires daily contact, regular meetings and parental involvement. The advisor’s role includes many functions: friend, helper, guide, counselor, appraiser, record keeper, critic, facilitator, expediter, and arranger. The advisor helps the student grow in all areas–intellectual, social, physical–and to develop talents and uniqueness. The advisor is an educational broker. Like a travel agent, the advisor asks students where they want to go and helps make the best educational plans and schedules for getting there. The advisor helps parents and students fashion and design programs that best fit the needs of students. The advisory group establishes a supportive home base where the group can plan activities and feel included.

Personal Learning Plans
Every student has a Personal Learning Plan (PLP). The PLP, tailored to their needs, learning styles and school expectations develops by the student in consultation with their advisor and their parents. It contains goals, how to achieve those goals and progress toward goals, projects and graduation. The student, advisor and parents review and update the PLP periodically.

Project-Based Learning
Project-Based Learning involves a student or several students working on a topic of interest. The process includes researching the topic, gathering information, organizing information and reporting on their findings. The reports may take the form of a written essay, a dramatic presentation such as a play or musical, considerable discussion with adult resources and always includes a public presentation before an audience of peers and adults. Student interest areas vary enormously and projects provide an outlet for exploring what may range from a passing interest to what becomes a lifelong career or avocation. Exploring a topic requires a fairly rigorous application and demonstration of many skills and knowledge areas.

Interdisciplinary Curriculum
An interdisciplinary curriculum removes the boundaries between school subjects and increases the likelihood that skills and knowledge from different subjects apply to solving problems or learning new topics. This departs from standard school curricula of separate subjects or what is sometimes referred to as “silos of knowledge.” The real world is not made up of just biology or just literature. Rather, the brain sees the world in totality with a mixture of understandings and learnings. It learns mostly from complexity. The mistake many schools make is to assume that dividing knowledge into separate areas will somehow combine in the brain as a more generalized picture of the world and knowledge. This does not happen for most people. Students need to see the broader picture of the world, its features, its problems, and its triumphs to better understand how the world works.

Service Learning Opportunities
Service learning offers opportunities for students to make a difference in their school and the community through their efforts and applying school learning. This results in the good feelings of self-efficacy or knowledge that “I can make a difference.” Examples include volunteering at a community agency such as the Goodwill, helping in a food kitchen and helping maintain the school’s computers or touring visitors. Every student serves in a role that accomplishes important school tasks. Community service is expected of very student.

Learning Through Travel
Trips to various places in the United States and beyond increase understanding of different cultures, history, geography and other important areas of learning. Students plan trips by researching budgets, meals, lodging, maps and using the Internet for learning about destinations and route highlights. Trips include journals, interviews, photography and reflection. Students report that trips have been among the most important stimulating eye-opening learning experiences of their schooling years.

Courses, Seminars, Workshops

Despite an experiential emphasis schools still provide specific courses on topics of importance and standard school subjects, often in a seminar or workshop mode to increase active learning by participation and involvement. These might include, for example, the science of nutrition or modern politics with students carrying out activities that stimulate interest and further exploration or community action. Many seminars or workshops emerge from world, state or local current news events. Community experts and local resource people share their experiences as “sparks,” to spur interest, and serve as jumping off points to new vocabulary and concepts. The world and all of its complexity and variety need to be understood by students.

Restorative Justice
Restorative justice is a process where all people affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been hurt by the wrong and to decide what should be done to repair the harm. Three key ideas support restorative justice. First is the understanding that the victim and the surrounding community have both been affected by the action of the offender. Second, the offender’s obligation is to make amends with both the victim and the involved community. Third, and the most important process of restorative justice, is the concept of ‘healing,’ or the collaborative unburdening of pain for the victim, offender, and community. All parties engage in creating agreements in order to avoid recidivism and to restore safety for how the wrongdoing can be righted which allows the victim to have direct say in the judgment process. This gives offenders the opportunity to understand the harm they have caused, while demonstrating to the community that the offender might also have also suffered harm. Healing by reintegration of offenders into the community, strives to restore harmony, health, and well-being by comprising personal accountability, decision-making and the making right of harm.

Students as Resources
The concept of Students as resources recognizes the worth and value of every student and that each has gifts and talents to share with the community. Schools short of resources such as money and staff often overlook the greatest resource in their midst, that of the students themselves. Students can teach, help, handle responsibilities, initiate, manage and make decisions given an environment where their talents are given rein and appreciated. For example, students can tutor, teach about a passion to others and participate on the school’s Board of Directors.

By serving an internship in an organization for a period of time, students learn  about how an organization works, how adults interact and their own abilities and potential. These include internships and formal Work Experience programs. Both immerse students in real world community organizations and businesses outside the school. Students learn the importance of record keeping, writing skills, and math skills which increases their motivation to improve their academic learning in school. Students learn that punctuality is critically important, schedules must be met, behavior must conform to norms, dress is important and courtesy is essential to the organization’s bottom line. These are learnings of great importance and have a lasting impact on students.

Technology gives every student the opportunity to work on any topic.  Students value the internet and other technology for carrying out their projects. All students become proficient at word processing, e-mail, graphic programs, presentation programs, internet searching and other technology tools.

Cooperative Learning
Cooperative learning refers to a learning strategy in which small teams–often as an aspect of project-based learning—each with students of different levels of ability, use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a topic. Students collaborate through the task until all group members successfully understand and complete it. Cooperative efforts result in participants striving for mutual benefit.

Exchanges help students to understand how another community or culture works by exchanging positions for a time. For example, a student or several students go to a rural community for two weeks and live in rural homes and attend the local school. This is often followed by a reverse exchange in which the rural students attend the city school. Exchanges have occurred across town and across national borders. Students report these as very powerful and stimulating learning experiences. They learn how other families manage, how other schools work and experience community resources. Often these involve values very different from their own  and broaden understandings. Such experiences better prepare students for the real world of diversity they will experience for the rest of their lives

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 policy makers. 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.

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 but 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; citizenship skills like critical thinking are poorly developed; 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.
  • 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 the 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.