Earlier this week I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa to meet with our Regional Center partners, the Institute for Character Development at Drake University. On Tuesday we went to meet with representatives from the Department of Education. It’s a busy time of year; and this year things are even busier given the economic realities (the Department of Education, along with the rest of Iowa has been implementing a mid-year 10% across the board budget cut). So we were especially grateful for the meeting.
Over the past several years we have continued to meet with representatives from the Iowa Department of Education as part of our ongoing efforts to (1) understand the pressing challenges and initiatives faced by educators in Iowa (including the Iowa Core Curriculum, the 21st C Skills, Response to Intervention, Work Force Preparation, Dropout Prevention, etc.), and to (2) keep the Department updated on our programs, training, and research and how it aligns with and assists educators in realizing the goals of these pressing initiatives and challenges.
I won’t lie, many meetings of this type can be pretty depressing: you have the sense that they’re yesing you so you’ll get the heck out of their office. And, in fairness to them, most folks that are bringing something to them are concerned with their agenda, not helping the department officials solve their concerns. What was so refreshing about our meeting with the Iowa Department of Education was that there was genuine interest by all to be updated on the efforts to pilot programming whose success impacted all around the table.
I think it was refreshing for the Department of Education to be updated on the 4 Iowa Field Research Sites participating in our Power2 programming (including hearing directly from an Associate Principal from one field site). I think it was encouraging for them to hear a “warts and all” assessment of our efforts. We weren’t there to sell them that we have it all figured out (these are difficult challenges; if it was easy it would already be solved).
The programs aren’t perfect; there have been growing pains (for the schools and for our team), but that we also have some important points of growth. We have students working on an entirely new approach to character education: one that helps them to intentionally develop the culture and competencies of excellence and ethics needed for school, work, and beyond. The programming isn’t soft, ice-breakers and brain candy. Students are thinking, and writing, and sharing, and experiencing an approach that is intensive and intentional (and we have emerging evidence that the programs are having an impact). Teachers are experiencing programming that has them learning, thinking, reflecting on data, and engaging colleagues in dialogue–all around character and culture needed for teaching and learning. Power2Teach has been very well received and the schools have put in significant time and energy. The more we are able to help teachers understand this as not competing with the Iowa Core Curriculum, but as a pathway for realizing the Core Curriculum, the more progress we will make.
I think it was important to the Department to know that work continued this year in 4 field sites in spite of the fact that our proposal for funding was not reviewed by the USDOE Partnerships in Character Program (since funding was cut in the omnibus budget last spring, our proposal to do Power2Programming with 44 Iowa High Schools wasn’t reviewed). So, in a difficult economic year, with pressing educational initiatives all around, 4 field research sites in Iowa commited their time and energy, supported by funding from secured by IEE and it’s partners at ICD and the Center for the 4th and 5th Rs. It was truly an example of “shared risk, shared reward” by all involved.
We were grateful that at every step the Department has listened; the Department has continued to observe our work; the Department has continued to challenge us to align our research instruments and programming with the key initiatives in Iowa (like the Core Curriculum). They haven’t promissed us anything, except that they would continue to listen, observe the ongoing field research work, and to continue dialogue about how the Power2Programming might help Iowa’s educators meet the Department’s vision.
It’s slow, difficult, painstaking work. But, strangely, in a pretty depressing year, all around the table I believe were encouraged–maybe becuase we were talking about real work, done with real schools in Iowa, that was focused on meeting the needs of real students and teachers. Funny how most of our time seems to be spent on other things that don’t really matter.
There are still many challenges and there were absolutely no clear answers. Just a heartfelt sense of appreciation by all gathered for the hard work done by all to develop research-based solutions to the challenges facing schools in Iowa–that are both useful and feasible.
We were grateful for the time; encouraged by the progress; and, recommitted in our collective efforts to work harder to build on the successes of this past year, with hopes that 2010-2011 might see all involved in this important work, returning to the table with even more to celebrate.
Consider me a hopeful realist. What’s that mean? I assume it will be harder than we think, require more time and effort than we planned, but that given the commitment and dedication of our partners, I expect for us to make some major headway on our shared challenges in this coming year.