Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How can we work together? And on what?

We can't do it alone. We know that. Consider a child entering kindergarten this year. To ensure that she is successful when she graduates in 2022, we have to work together not only in her schools (and some children can attend half dozen or more), but as a district to coordinate the resources and support she and her teachers need, and as a community (her family, daycare, recreation providers, health care workers, social services). And together, we need to continually ask - what does she need to be successful? It's a hard question to ask in a rapidly changing world.

Consider: the children who graduated from school this year (leaving us as our new kindergartner begins) started school in 1996. When they waved good-bye to parents on that first day, chances are someone took a picture that needed to be developed (digital cameras for consumers were introduced in 1990 and were still prohibitively expensive and not very good in 1996). Few would have been connected to the Internet at home (only 7% of households in Canada were connected by 1997 - not broadband, of course, but via telephone), text messaging was a new idea used by a handful of people, the patent for WIFI had just been filed, and certainly the students wouldn't have had their own cell phone yet (they cost, on average, $600, and rates were sky-high). iPods were in the future, Google was still a research project by university students, there were no blogs, no YouTube, no Facebook .

What else will become ubiquitous by 2022? How will that affect the economy, culture, individuals? What will a child entering kindergarten today need when she graduates?

We know we have to work and think hard together if we are going to educate her to gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes she needs to participate fully in our society and also to follow her heart to a fulfilling life of meaningful contribution and lifelong learning. But working together is difficult. Not only do we have an increasingly demanding job, but we live (in the rest of our lives as well) in a complex world with constant demands on our attention. Working together might enhance our work in the long term, but in the short term, it just demands more of what we have so little of: time, energy, attention. What can we do better together than on our own? How can we work together effectively (not just spinning our wheels in endless meetings)? And what will we work together on? After all, do we really know what will make the most difference in the life-chances of our kindergartner as she moves through the system toward graduation?

IMAGE: Esquire Magazine - The Object of Desire: The Cell Phone (September 1999)

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