NEA Today published a 2016 article titled, “What’s the Purpose of Education? Public Doesn’t Agree on the Answer.” The article referenced a poll where respondents chose the primary focus of education from among the following:
- Provide Rigorous Academic Instruction
- Promote Good Citizenship
- Create a Skilled, Career-Ready Workforce
The results of the poll are interesting: 45% of respondents indicated the purpose was to prepare students academically; 26% of respondents chose good citizenship as the top priority; 25% selected preparing students for work as the number one goal; and 4% of respondents indicated that they were unsure.
What would the results be if that same poll were taken today? This is purely speculation on my part, but I imagine the results might look similar. What is different is that there is far more focus (and disagreement) on how these objectives are accomplished. What is being taught? How is it being taught? What role do we, as a society, want schools to play?
Here is a snapshot of our approach in the Fergus Falls Public School District. First, we look at the child as a whole. While we certainly embrace the traditional view of education that we are responsible for providing rigorous academic instruction, it is more complicated than that. The goal becomes impossible if a student’s basic needs are not met.
What are those needs? Food and nutrition are essential for life. Students can receive a free breakfast and lunch daily and the Feeding Backpack program sends food home with students on the weekends. Shelter. We have little impact on a child’s physical living conditions although we are a watchguard in the event that a child is living in an environment that is unhealthy or unsafe. Emotional support? Absolutely – we care about our students and it is our goal to make a personal connection with each child. Students want to know the answer to the questions: “Do you see me? Have you gotten to know who I am? Do you accept me?”
When these environmental conditions are effectively in place, students are ready and able to be at their very best as learners. We have the ability through rigorous academics, experiential learning and activities that help students determine their interests, abilities and skills. Throw in a little encouragement, challenge students to push themselves and you have a formula that will allow students to reach their potential.
Our vision centers around five concepts: Content Knowledge, Creative Problem Solver, Communicator, Character and Contributing Citizen.
CONTENT KNOWLEDGE: To maintain a competitive advantage in the employment world and to be well-equipped to meet the challenges of daily living and derive personal satisfaction and well-being, it is essential that our graduates embrace the concept of lifelong learning and develop mastery of key foundational knowledge. Among the foundational knowledge areas: Language Arts Literacy, Numeracy, Scientific Literacy, Personal Financial Literacy, Arts Literacy and Vocational Literacy. Students should be able to organize and prioritize their time. They should have knowledge of career paths and how to plan their path to a desired career. Students will also need to be knowledgeable in the use of various technologies including how to best utilize technology for effective communication. Students will have core knowledge in obtaining and maintaining their physical, emotional and cognitive well-being.
COMMUNICATOR: Our students will develop strong communication skills. They will be articulate writers and speakers and able to effectively communicate in front of a group of people. Students will be able to communicate globally and demonstrate effective collaboration skills as a member of a work group or team. To be an effective communicator also means that students are present, focused, active and engaged listeners who are able to accurately process meaning when communicating with others. Students will be aware of social media responsibility, etiquette, protocols and can filter potential social media threats and misinformation.
CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVER: Our goal is to create students who have outstanding problem-solving skills. Students will be aware that most problems have a wide array of potentially effective solutions. We want students to experience failure and frustration not in a negative way, but as a conduit to learning and resiliency. Students need to be open-minded, curious and adaptable. Students must be able to collect data and apply analytical skills. Students will develop strong critical thinking skills to include inductive and deductive reasoning, the ability to use the principles of design engineering and the scientific method.
CHARACTER: It is recognized that the character of an Otter graduate is as important to us as any academic ability. An Otter should live life passionately while always adhering to the highest standards of personal integrity. Graduates must be confident, self-disciplined, and self-directed. They should see themselves as courageous leaders, having the ability to determine their own futures and to positively impact the world around them. Otters approach life being mindful and considerate of the thoughts and feelings of others.
CONTRIBUTING CITIZEN: Otters should have pride in themselves, their school, their community and their country. We want our students to have respect and appreciation for the freedoms we have as U.S. citizens. We acknowledge that we each have a responsibility to be agents of change - actively engaged in efforts to improve our local community, state and country. We want to cultivate the idea that through serving and stewardship, we can positively impact the world around us. It is essential that we develop cultural awareness so that we might better understand, accept and communicate with people who may have different knowledge, customs and beliefs than our own.
Back to the poll at the beginning of this column. Our vision captures all of the three priorities listed. We view each one as supporting the other goal. They were never mutually exclusive. We hope that you are proud of the education the community’s children are receiving in the Fergus Falls School District. As always, we greatly appreciate your support and partnership.