BY CHRISTINE BERNSTEIN
LAPS Board, District 3
As we head into this campaign season, I have been doing a lot of observing and thinking. Two years ago, I was in the midst of campaigning for my position on the school board. During my campaign, I learned a lot about my community, the School Board, and myself. I am reading and watching this current campaign with interest, and I have been reflecting on my first two years as a board member and all that I have learned.
Some of the things I have learned have been simple, such as process, policies, and certain laws. I have learned about group dynamics and a lot about what our educational community cares about. I have learned that although we may think we care about the same thing, how we approach it differs. I have learned what we see is not always the reality.
I have learned about myself as well. I am shy and awkward on camera or in front of a group. I did not realize this. I roll my eyes too much and need to learn to keep them still. I prefer one on one conversations and have had to learn to dig deep to find a comfort zone in my discomfort. I have learned that I am by nature a collaborator and find that the linear way of communication during board meetings feels very non-productive. I have realized that being non-productive is frustrating for me. I learned that when presented with new information, it takes me time to assimilate it and think about it. I react first from my gut and will push the boundaries and walk the line precariously when needed. I call it planting seeds.
I also realize how much I already know. As an educator, I think like a teacher. I am reminded of those essays I would read as an educator that had a lot of words, but no substance. And that has been my experience as a board member. A lot of presentation, and no action. A lot is said and shown, but action and measured outcomes seem to take longer to see.
I have attended numerous, probably all but one, NMSBA (New Mexico School Board Association) trainings, retreats, and conferences and understand the task of a board member well. And of course, I learned at these events too. Our job is to make policy and approve the budget and hire and supervise the superintendent. And work on the strategic plan. I think of it as a sort of checks and balances. I have enjoyed these conferences and workshops. I learned that our state is quite diverse in its districts. I have had many conversations with superintendents and board members from around the state and I have had opportunities to speak with legislators, lawyers, members of PED, and even our state auditor. All these experiences have helped me learn and understand on a deeper level the job I can do and the limitations as well.
Above I stated that one of the “jobs” of school boards is to help develop a strategic plan.
I have worked in many schools and the one thing that has always come up is the need to create a mission statement. This has usually happened as a response to going through accreditation. Our district has a mission statement and I have been contemplating this often these past two years.
Not long ago we revisited the strategic plan. As a board member, I have kept a copy in my notebook and refer to it often. The plan was developed with the help of Robyn Jackson (CEO of Mindsteps Inc.) who has worked with our district. So, the current board, with the help of a past board member, reviewed and discussed the strategic plan not long ago.
One of the things I have noticed when we do this discussion-type thing is that I am never quite sure of the goal of the discussion. Important information is shared, and questions are asked, yet nothing happens afterward, no follow-up or follow-through. It’s like a class where the students do a project or a class discussion yet, it is never collected, assessed, or revisited.
As a result, I have been reflecting lately on these two years and how they align with the strategic plan.
The first statement on the first page of our strategic plan is the mission statement, “We will create life-long learners.”
I have been wondering, “what does that mean? What is a life-long learner?”
Everything we do- testing, grades, etc. is linked to measurable outcomes or should be. And we use these tests to try to measure learning. But how do we measure this statement- that we are creating life-long learners? And what does that look like?
Then the next thought comes- do we, as a community of adults, model the mission statement? Do we model the other items in our strategic plan? Do we practice what we preach?
If we are asking these things of our students, are we doing them?
I had a student a few years ago say, “We want teachers to grow with us.” This was probably one of the most profound statements a student has made to me as an educator. I pondered his statement and asked questions. The class chimed in as well and explained- teachers don’t’ know everything and it makes us feel good when teachers are with us and don’t act like they are above us. It helps us learn better. Now, I am paraphrasing, but I understood what these kids were saying. Grow WITH us. Be a learner too, it is ok to not have all the answers, discover with us and guide us, be vulnerable and drop the ego. They want educators to be life-long learners.
And as I continuously look at our strategic plan, and I ponder that mini educational workshop the board had with the strategic plan, I keep asking myself, “Are we ALL life-long learners? How do we know? And how do we know if our kids will be? And the most important one right now- How are we, as an educational community, defining learning?”
I do not know the purpose of that school board strategic plan meeting, and I am trying to get to the bottom of it. I am hoping I can influence my board members to be proactive and revisit it. I know we have minutes from the meeting and maybe now it is time to look over those minutes, have a discussion, set some goals, come up with an action plan that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. It can be simple. Personally, I think it starts with defining learning. It’s that simple. It’s a discussion. It’s a discussion that the whole community needs to have. It means different things to different people. If we want life-long learners, we need to define learning. Because guaranteed, when these kids go off into their adult life, there will not be any sort of standardized test, percentage, grade, or report or PowerSchool program to define if they are still learners.
If we want them to be life-long learners, shouldn’t we also be?