THE FWSU STORY: Rising Practices that Converge to Transform Education

When I was an English major in college, one of my favorite authors was Flannery O’Connor. Toward the end of her life, she wrote a collection of short stories entitled Everything That Rises Must Converge. I loved that book of stories and remember thinking about what the title meant in relationship to each of the characters in those nine stories. But more than anything, what stuck with me was that title, which seemed so loaded with meaning that I have rolled it over and over in my mind perennially. Long after my undergraduate days, I learned that “Everything that rises must converge” was actually a quote from a French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. As I dug more deeply into de Chardin’s work, it helped to shift my thinking about education and how it evolves, moves forward, and had the potential to rise up.

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So, if you follow me on Twitter, you know my handle is @Educate4ward. One of the ways I have always aspired to lead is by being a forward thinker, “moving ever upward toward greater consciousness,”  understanding, and meaning. At the same time, I continually try to work out how seemingly disparate educational ideas or goals can converge into something coherent, important, and worthy of rising up to capture our professional attention, collective wisdom, and energy as educators.

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If “everything that rises must converge,” then are potential convergences actually the “bright spots” in the areas of implementation that can sometimes feel overwhelming to educators? Is “convergence” the key to maintaining “a belief in what is possible?”

Last Monday, October 29, various personnel who support teachers and students presented to our FWSU New Teachers at Professional Practice Forum. One of those teachers, Harold Vance, is our high school’s Flexible Pathways Coordinator. Harold shared the following graphic, which inspired lots of follow-up discussion on what the progression of areas of flexible pathways looked like from elementary to middle to high school. Some of that follow-up discussion included questions about enlarging experiences in innovation labs, Farm to School, and Project-based Learning and Service Learning with community partners, which would include a more intentional approach using these rising practices to carve out flexible pathways to ensure students’ authentic opportunities for voice and agency in the curriculum.

Could the convergence of some of these authentic experiences our students are having in elementary and middle school establish the progression of flexible pathways? What could the intentional approach to this progression look like? What “rising practices” are possible?

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Over the weekend, a Curriculum Director and blogger I admire greatly, Michael Berry, shared that he had just finished the book The Art of Possibility. I had forgotten about that book and was able to pull it out again and remember why the ideas resonated.

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The book is truly about “a belief in what is possible” and how the convergence of the personal and the professional can inspire energy, creativity, and forward thinking in our life and work. One of the taglines in the book that stuck with me was “It’s all invented.” My takeaway from the book was to look for the connectedness in what was disconnected and move the ideas forward, converging their value to invent a new, coherent version of something that seemed unrelated: rising practices.

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By converging seemingly divergent ideas and goals into connected and coherent possibilities and then practices, are we better positioned to improve learning and reduce initiative fatigue?

Finally, this year Superintendent Kirsch kicked off  our school year by asking us to make the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) our “why.” By encouraging us to put the SDGs into action in every classroom, the convergence of student leadership and proficiency-based personalized learning becomes another set of rising practices connected to an authentic, meaningful purpose: “Act locally, think globally.”  The Sustainable Development Goals as the center of student-centered learning represent an opportunity for further important convergence– the convergence of the four FWSU Vision Targets: proficiency-based, personalized learning, student-centered leadership, flexible learning, and engaged community partners.

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If we were to include a K-12 “flexible pathways” progression using the SDGs as a vehicle, could the convergence of newly synthesized “rising practices” including proficiency-based learning, personalization, project-based and service learning, student voice and agency, flexible learning environments, and engaging our community partners in the global goals work actually shift the entire learning landscape of public education? Is convergence the key to transformation?

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The ultimate convergence — staccato initiatives pulled together into a meaningful whole — can move education from a series of narrow views to an expansive horizon of the possible. As we deepen our learning about the student-centered practices discussed in this post, we do raise their value to our learners. Convergence of rising ideas, goals, practices, and initiatives is vital to improving student learning and to making progress in education. But most importantly, convergence could create real transformation in education. moving it forward and upward to better and greater outcomes for our learners.


Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum at FWSU. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

 

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