5 Great Things Happening in Today’s Classrooms

If you want good news about our schools (or good news in general), try to avoid the daily bombardment of news stories about underperforming schools, cantankerous parents or the scandal of the day. The news industry long ago realized that disaster and trouble attract big audiences, so that’s what they play to as much as possible.

It’s hard work finding good news amidst all the bad. If your brain needs a rest, take a moment to think about these five positive classroom trends:

Increasing use of technology

While certainly not a cure-all for what troubles our schools, the growing acceptance of technology by our students is a bright spot. Of course some may complain that children are looking at “too many screens,” but it’s important to step back and realize just what a low-priced laptop and a ubiquitous wireless connection mean to our classrooms.

For the first time in the history of schooling, any piece of data or information is just a few keystrokes away. Rather than expecting teachers to be the only source of information about the world, our connected culture enables teachers to show students where they can find any piece of information from anywhere at a moment’s notice.

This is an incredibly powerful tool to have access to. Sometimes we forget that when we get pulled into looking at the latest cute-cat picture on the Internet.

Declining reliance on worksheets

Going hand-in-hand with the growth on online resources is the move away from rote “drill-and-kill” worksheets in our classrooms. Yes, there are basic facts and skills that our students need to learn, but for years too many teachers relied solely on paper worksheets as the dominant assessment and review strategy.

Now, lots of teachers are moving away from worksheets. They have students completing group work, writing pieces and using other forms of media to reinforce information previously found only on paper. This doesn’t mean students should no longer practice memorization or fact retention. Rather, teachers just need to use worksheets in the proper context and not rely on them as a crutch.

More learning-active schools

When our students leave their formal schooling, they are entering a world that is more collaborative, team-centered and interdependent than ever before. More and more companies and institutions are recognizing that effective teamwork skills are necessary for their workplace, and schools are responding in kind by fostering more learning-active classrooms.

Rather than just sit and receive knowledge passively from a lecturing teacher, students are expected to research, work together and come to their own conclusions. Aside from increasing the interest level of the students, it also creates a place that more closely resembles the world that students will be entering.

Stronger curriculum connection and colleague collaboration

For too long, schools treated each subject as a “silo.” Students would spend a specific time span in a single classroom studying a single subject. When the bell rang, they’d trudge to the next classroom and study that topic for the same amount of time. School was the factory model come to life.

Today, more and more schools are working to integrate these disparate subjects into collaborative curriculum units that teachers work together to create. Rare is the important life or work event that exists in a single discipline or subject. Any situation today is complex and requires a broad and comprehensive approach to address it effectively. These expectations are being modeled in classrooms that expect students to work deeply and together on complex topics.

These five trends — all present in today’s schools — give us both pause for the massive changes they represent and hope for the idea that education can evolve as needed to best serve our students. If you get a chance to bring these and other innovations to your classroom, jump on it.

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Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

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