Yesterday, John and I had the pleasure of attending the Community Conversation About Education – Educating Woodstock’s Students In a Global Society held at the middle school and hosted by the Woodstock Board of Education, the Woodstock Association of Teachers, the Woodstock PTO and The Woodstock Education Foundation. The event cost was covered by a grant from The William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund. Daycare for participants’ children was provided by Ms. Gray’s Childhood Development class (students) from Woodstock Academy.
The event was fairly well attended and, while I didn’t actually count heads, I’d guess there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 attendees. We gathered at 8:30 for a catered breakfast and registration. After a short power point presentation, we then broke up into smaller groups for our discussions. Each group had a trained moderator and note taker, neither of whom were allowed to participate in the group’s discussion. Several people were ‘floaters’, moving from group to group to listen to the discussions as they took place. The floaters also were precluded from participating in the discussions as well. Among the floaters were Superintendent Baran and Headmaster Caron.
There was a wide swath of groups from current Academy students, recent WA grads, teachers (from elementary through collegiate level), school staff, parents, BOE members, and other community members. We started with a couple of basic ground rules and it was made clear that our goal was not to come to consensus, but rather to have everyone’s opinion voice. Disagreements were welcomed, as long as the disagreement was about the idea and not the person voicing it.
The goal of this kind of community dialogue was to “bring together a diverse group of community members to talk through issues and ideas about education”. I would have liked to see a wider range of attitude and backgrounds, but this was a great starting point. The conversation in my group was quite stimulating and thought provoking. I was particularly please to have two WA students in the group, both of whom were very well spoken, intelligent and contributed thoughtful insights.
We were asked to consider three approaches to educating students in a global society. Those options of focus were 1.) the fundamentals 2.) science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and 3.) Critical thinking, the humanities, and communication. We took a hand count about which option each of us thought the education of our students should focus. The first two hands were definitely for option 3, the next was 2/3. I lost count at that point because I had a serious problem personally prioritizing these options. From my perspective you can’t have a well rounded education in today’s world without encompassing all three options.
By the time the hand counting was done, most of us were in some kind of combination of all three options. Some leaned more toward one of the options over the other two, but still included the other two in their analysis of what was needed. It was a very interesting conversation and I really wish we could have had more time. I learned things and, more importantly, got to know the members of my group in new ways.
Maybe its just me, but I love talking with people. I really enjoy sharing ideas and perspectives with different people. It is amazing how we can actually sit down, decide to be civil and share our thoughts with each other. It doesn’t need to turn into a take-no-prisoners exchange. I’m still mulling over what my group discussed yesterday and expect I’ll continue to do so.
After our discussion time had expired, we reviewed our discussion and determined, our areas of common ground, our areas of disagreement, and what steps we thought should be taken. Then we reassembled as a large group and shared each group’s experience. It was heartening to see that there were very similar aspects to each group’s conversations. There seems to be a lot of common ground.
There will be a follow up meeting on May 12th at 7 PM where the complete results will be shared. This meeting is open to the entire community and is not limited only to participants of yesterday’s event. So, please join us for the follow up meeting.
It would be interesting to hear what our Café readers think about educating Woodstock’s students in a global society. Should we focus on fundamentals, STEM or critical thinking/communication? How do any of these options impact our ability to compete in the global economy?