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Forward-Focused Schools Promote Problem Solving, Daggett Emphasizes in Pre-Conference Workshop

School districts that are improving the fastest are demonstrating that successful schools have stopped making changes based on the past.

To galvanize educators to introduce major changes in their school districts’ culture and practices, Bill Daggett, founder and chair of the International Center for Leadership in Education in Rexford, N.Y., provided video clips, summarized findings from national reports and contrasted best practice with current practice.

During a Wednesday afternoon pre-conference workshop in Los Angeles titled “Successful Innovating Practices for Improving Student Performance,” he zeroed in on a pervasive problem with education reform today – a lack of focus.

“Everything is a priority,” Daggett said. Yet the fastest-improving districts emphasize focus. These districts, he added, “put a stake in the ground and then figure out how to build back from that future (that they want for kids).”

Schools continue to teach isolated content and skills so students can excel on a standardized test or apply what they know in a single subject area. The testing and accountability system reinforces this mindset, but the ultimate goal should be “making kids independent and successful” over a lifetime, not just immediately after high school.

Students must be problem-solvers in unpredictable situations, according to Daggett, and soft skills that use collaborative problem-solving are important. The focus is to develop the whole child and that means superintendents should take responsibility for developing students’ social and emotional health.

One memorable moment of his presentation was a “60 Minutes” video clip showing a person wearing a special headphone that renders Google obsolete. An interviewer posed a question to the subject wearing the headphone such as “Name the capital of a country and its population.” Within seconds, the person says the name of the capital and 1.1 million. A computer is reading the person’s thoughts with no speech or typing involved.

It’s time to think what this new world means for our schools.

(Liz Griffin is senior editor of AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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