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Doing Compass Work

September 16, 2018


In the weeks leading up to the start of school, I had several conversations with staff about the SAS Compass. As one might imagine, I talk and think about our learner profile a lot. In these conversations, we were discussing various aspects of how we could deepen the work around the eight student attributes that are the framework of the learner profile. As these conversations evolved, patterns emerged. Staff and community members value the compass as it provides a vision, a target, and a means to define the work that is done across all platforms within the SAS District.  The staff values the ideals of a holistic approach to education. Continuity and a common aim for all students are admirable goals. However, there is an apparent disconnect between the development of the attributes and the enhancing or infusing the attributes into the “real work” of school. In fact, in one conversation, the staff member indicated that they wondered at what point in their work they needed to “do the Compass work.” It was eye-opening to hear teachers articulate that they viewed the Compass work as being separate from the content standards, curriculum, and support services that are already in place across the District.

As these conversations took place, I considered the aspects regarding where we are as an organization as related to the pursuit of this holistic approach. First, it is clear to me that the organization and the individuals within it understand that developing and strengthening the specific student skills/ attributes is a worthy endeavor. Second, this realization reminded me that there is much work left to be done. Finally, much of our practice (including mine) is built around the traditional/historic structures of school.

Traditional schooling is teacher-led in classrooms set up in rows of desks. The expectation is that the students will sit and listen and obey. Rote memorization of regurgitation of facts is prevalent. For nine months of the calendar year, schools are open, and students learn basic, traditional subjects such as math, reading, writing, and social studies. Many adults, products of this type of education,  are quite successful. So, is traditional schooling ineffective? Is the Compass relevant?

On the Forbes 2013 list of the top ten skills that employers seek in potential employees, the first is the ability to work as a team(Collaborative Leader). Traditional schooling does not promote that skill. Number four on the list is the ability to communicate verbally with others, both inside and outside of an organization (Positive Communicator, Globally Connected). Traditional schooling does not promote those skills. Numbers seven and eight concern technical knowledge specific to the job and proficiency with computer software and hardware (Complex Thinker, Financially and Digitally LIterate). Traditional schooling falls short in these areas. Evidently, we are on the right track with the SAS Compass and the expected Student Attributes. Measuring the success and documenting student growth in their quest to embody all eight of those attributes is a challenge.

The work of a school district is influenced by the things that we measure. Test scores, for example.  We measure student success based on outdated models and previous understandings of knowledge. This year presents Saline Area Schools as an organization and community of learners with the opportunity to look for new ways to think about and measure student performance.  

“Not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything that is measured matters.” Elliot Eisner

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