Updated: Aug 14, 2020
by D'Ondré Miller
In our February 2019 article for The Nassau Guardian, we spoke about core environments (specifically the community environment) that are an influence on lifelong learning. We mentioned that according to Johns Hopkins University’s research professor (of education and sociology) Dr. Joy Epstein, there are three pillars or environments of influence to the learning process: community, school and home. We further explained that the ideal components within a community environment (for-profit corporations, non-profits, religious and civic groups and government entities) cultivate the type of space needed for persons to learn and grow throughout their lifetime. Successful community environments, therefore, foster collaborative learning, are positive, sustainable, malleable and hold as a core mission the growth and development of the community, culture and country. This month’s article will look at the school environment pillar of influence and identify key attributes that should exist within a school to support the learning process, and cultivate ethically-grounded, civically-minded, lifelong learners. The hope is that parents, teachers and organizations will seek out schools to engage with and offer their partnership. The combined forces support, uplift and even sustain lifelong learning to produce outstanding citizens. First, a look at the components in the school environment. Scholars divide the functionality of schools into two categories: that of a system that caters to schooling (a short-term competitive exercise that yields questionable results in knowledge retention or ethical standards) versus educating (a lifelong process that produces informed, engaged, knowledgeable and wise citizens). Within the parameters of schooling, we see the game of doing what one must to get the number (grade, GPA or ranking) one needs for status. Getting the grades is the art of passing, not learning or understanding. It is a high-pressure-driven method where the culture is to teach test format familiarity, test-taking skills and drills, to the exclusion of history, science, the arts, character or culture. Numeric indicators gleaned from standardized test scores, grade point average and class rank produce environments and individuals whose sole focus is winning or the appearance of winning. In the past decade, we see the results of the schooling mindset in the collapse of the Bernie Madoff pyramid scheme; the Enron, subprime mortgage or CLICO implosions; and more recently the U.S. college admissions scandal. Test scores should instruct teacher decision. For more individual student learning, they should aid in the creation of innovative, imaginative lessons and projects that promote reasoning, problem-solving, questioning, analyzing, synthesizing and understanding. Performance-learning, as an alternative to test-based learning, is where teachers and students are continually looking at what teachers are teaching and what students glean from the lessons. School cultures that look at what students are trying to learn are then able to measure and track if students are, in fact, learning. The questions are do they know the material; how is each performing in relation to minimal and maximal objectives, allowing a culture where teachers and students thrive in a context-driven, solutions-based environment – a KYC (know your customer) for education. A school with an environment that educates promotes collaboration over competition, and says that achieving excellence with passionate commitment and hard work over the long-term is not only possible, but it is also the gold standard. It emphasizes individual worth, not as a quantifiable number, or metric measurement on a computer scorecard, but rather the sum (pun intended) or holistic essence of a person. When we leave our focus on scores, we short-change our students, our community and, in the end, our country. Schools that produce well-educated individuals ground their students in foundational principles and ethical frameworks that steer their decision-making to say, “What is good for the community must also be good for me because I am a part of the community.” It is rare that these schools produce students that say, “I must cheat to get ahead.” The school environment that cultivates education over schooling creates lifelong learners with values and principles that inform their decision-making as well as outstanding academics. A primary example of an institution that educates is one that incorporates STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics), future-focused learning that is also learner-centered and instils the fundamental principles of ethics, character and accountability. Educators consider this approach to be holistic and one that develops the learner through transformative pedagogy. Students develop depth and are not mired in the superficiality of matric academics without the benefit of art, culture and the intangibles of heart, perseverance and commitment. Second, what does the collaborative relationship between community and school environments look like? Collaborative relationships integrate country goals with organizational principles and learning strategies to improve student achievement and service to the community. Organizations that support lifelong learning by providing opportunities for students to be stewards in their environment cultivate a culture where thinking of others is natural. Support for stronger and more efficient ties between school and community is increasing, and parents, schools and companies are seeking multiple means of collaboration. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey encourages continual growth through an exchange of knowledge and resources — creating a complete shift in mindset from me to we. The Covey model looks at the development of families, schools and organizations as individual entities, but connects each through the habit of inspiration – the 8th habit – inspiring others to share their knowledge, talents, time and finances, so that others feel empowered (find their voice), for the betterment and growth of all. For example, a collaborative or synergistic relationship between a non-profit organization like Hands for Hunger and students in the cooking or home economic streams of local high schools, and perhaps support from a for-profit organization, might eventually put The Bahamas at the point where food scarcity or food insecurity no longer exists. When we integrate resources and services and reinforce lessons through workshops, programs and processes, we get goals that are innovative and often ahead of their time. It is a lifelong process that builds toward community sustainability, incorporating ethical values through volunteerism and stewardship, to produce a real and lasting change to issues plaguing the Bahamas. Third, what effect does connecting education and organizations have on society? Identifying and integrating community resources improves schools by assisting students to succeed in school and life, ultimately creating a sustainable Bahamas made up of citizens with strong ethical values. Today’s educational environments should be innovative and work on a fundamental level by aligning its curriculum to the needs of the country. However, if we go beyond the basic to futuristic, we become creators of systems which anticipate the needs of culture, community and our country, to produce systems that not only solve the problem in the immediate (feeding programs) but eradicates the issue (food insecurity becomes non-existent). Bestselling New York Times author Brandon Burchard calls the latter statement a “DUMB goal”. It is the process of setting “dream-driven, uplifting, method-friendly, behavior-driven” (DUMB) goals. As a nation, if we couple DUMB goals with SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) ones, we create a system that fosters a student environment where persons pursue their happiness with a sense of stewardship, coupling the tangibles with intangibles as the foundation of the educated citizenry. • D’Ondré Miller is the director of CFE development for Queen’s College Centre for Further Education. You can reach her at email@example.com.