Monday, April 14, 2014

My Cardiac Surgery and Education

Last Tuesday, April 8, I had some cardiac surgery--an ablation because of some extreme atrial fibrillation in my left atrium. Basically, the surgeon told me that it's like having what used to require open-heart surgery except now they can do it in ways I'm going to describe. He said that even ten years ago he couldn't have done the procedure as he did it on Tuesday and hoped for as high a chance of success (still waiting on that determination). Plus the recovery is amazingly quick considering what occurred. Sunday I took a long enough, brisk enough stroll to sweat a tiny bit. Today I was at school for several hours.

To highly oversimplify, here is the process. On Monday I went to the hospital for a CT scan. This scan was used to build a multi-colored 3-D computer model of my heart, zeroing in on the affected atrium. The colors indicated the areas needing attention. On Tuesday I went to the hospital, was prepped, and wheeled into the operating room. In there it was like the pit at a car race as several medical folks hooked me up to all sorts of sensors, electrodes, lines. Meanwhile, I stared at the clearest 60-inch hi-def monitor I've ever seen right above me. I don't recall going under.

During the procedure I had one scope down my throat to check for blood clots. To reach my atrium, the surgeon made a small incision near my groin, through which he inserted a scope into the vein and thus to the heart. While watching the model on the screen, he could pinpoint exactly where to move the scope and perform the ablation. That involves burning the areas that are causing the atrium to go into a-fib in an effort to reroute the electrical impulses in the heart. Or at least that's my very limited understanding of it!

So, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with education? Plenty, I think, particularly if considered both literally and metaphorically. Plus my experience captures why the best schools, to use a phrase I've borrowed from former NAIS president Pat Bassett, are both high-tech and high-touch.

I'm in awe of the sorts of minds that can progress any field in such amazing fashion, in this case by merging their existing knowledge with the possibilities afforded by technology. Such accomplishment requires not just knowledge and skill, but also a certain perspective, insight, and intellectual courage and determination. It soars high above pure academic achievement, although that clearly is the foundation. If anything, I'm understating the stunning work necessary in such rapid innovation. At the same time, it strikes me that it encapsulates the qualities we should aspire to foster in each and every student.

We're also reminded of the incredible opportunities that we have in this unbelievable era of technological advancement. So the question inevitably arises: while the situation is improving, what keeps so many teachers and schools from harnessing this potential? I'm sure anyone reading this blog has heard the now-cliched idea that one wouldn't choose a physician who has changed as little as schools have given all that we know now versus 25 years ago. For me this has become starkly more than an analogy.

Even with all that in mind, another basic truth emerges. As I've written many times, education is essentially about human connections. The high-touch part. My surgeon has shown a patient, empathetic bedside manner with my wife and me. The hospital staff was fabulous. Trustees and employees and school families have been supportive and kind. Friends have provided meals. We have beautiful plants and two giant gift baskets of fruit and other goodies. It's been inspiring. But nothing has charmed me more than the cards from students, made the old-fashioned way with construction paper and crayons and scissors and glue. One even came with a rabbit's foot! And it's reminded me why educators must be committed to their own growth to create the best possible schools for,this young people's futures.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Why Creativity Really Matters

     Many practical reasons exist for schools to be putting more emphasis on creativity in all its forms. The move from the information age to the creative age, employment prospects, the new emphasis on design, ties to innovation, the fact that thus far computers can't ideate--if you're reading this blog, like me you know most of the broad strokes, all of which I have invoked in various fora. I've even made hour-long presentations on this very topic.
     I love what this emphasis on creativity has brought to schools. We see more project-based learning, more integrated curricula, more collaboration, more questioning. The use of design thinking principles fosters key character and intellectual principles foundational to human progress. Maker spaces and design dens and innovation labs (and whatever else they are called) are pretty awesome places to see in action. Simply yet profoundly, education now seems more engaging and more relevant. More real.
     Having said all that, I don't know that we've articulated maybe the most important reason this trend matters.
     As I see it, the educational process and all its pieces should add up to a single whole: the creation of a self. In many ways growing up is forming updated prototypes of oneself, better iterations of one's core, hopefully in relation to others.For that to happen, one must be able to dream, to conceive of the possible, and to imagine oneself moving into it, whether by baby steps or in a giant leap. The stages of design thinking, for example, thus becomes a metaphor for striving to fulfill the mission. But a crucial difference is that doing so is as incumbent upon the students as it is the school. Probably even more so, which should be the goal since education should be about their futures. When it happens, that's learning at its most meaningful.