Michigan History

The Rationale for School Renewal WebCenter

Why is Change Needed?

The School Renewal WebCenter has been created to assist parents, community members, teachers, principals and school staff to take the initiative to imagine new ways for students to learn. It’s time to think of innovative techniques for both students and teachers to be able to produce award winning school performances. Roles, scripts, conditions and actions play a vital part in the production of school renewal. Looking for new ways to learn? Engage your kids with lego technic toys.

"If it was good enough for me..." Schools value traditional experience and use it as a guide. But in a time of rapid social and global change, what worked in the past may no longer prepare our children for their future. To take just one example, digital information and communication tools are shifting our patterns of work, play, social interaction, and economic exchange. As we approach the third millennium, organizations are taking stock of how to adapt their existing practices to meet the requirements of the next century. Schools, like the rest of the society, change and in times of rapid changes schools are subject to the same tensions, risks, and uncertainty that accompany change.

In education, many many different forces work to influence school change; hundreds of different school reform efforts have involved complex partnerships among teachers, parents, school administrators, university, corporate, government and community leaders. Reform and renewal efforts differ in the emphasis they place on the nature of the problems schools face and the way that schools need to change. School reform refers to whole school programmatic shifts while school renewal might involve the implementation of a new idea in one part of the school, a new plan for professional development, or way to address a particular concern. To help think about the complexity of school change, we employ a "drama" metaphor. We describe the drama of school reform and renewal efforts as a way to highlight the different forces from outside of schools and the ways that these scripts affect the roles and responsibilities within the school that together create school performance.

The Drama of School Change

There are individual, community, organizational and institutional demands to improve school performance. We begin with script writers--those individual and groups from outside of the school that feel that new scripts are needed for school change. If schools are "working" then academy receives students well prepared for university work, the economy finds that students are well prepared for work, and the community finds students with the e civic values needed for life in a democracy. If all is well, then schools are left alone. However, if one or more of these groups determines schools are failing, forces are mobilized to exert some pressure on schools to make sure that their script for schooling is central.

With the rapid increase in our knowledge base, and a fixed time in school, determining the basic knowledge that is to be learned by all students becomes increasingly controversial. Scientists, social scientists, artists, mathematicians, and writers become concerned that schools, left on their own, might not make the difficult decision about what is to be learned in school. The reformers who write the Academy Scripts what to establish which texts are "the classics," which theories are central, what frameworks provide the best understandings, and whose perspectives on the past are most valuable. They want to establish the intellectual "basics" to help students develop mental habits and intellectual insight. Some educators reject the need for change resurrecting the "back to basics" mantra of the sixties, while others celebrate new tools and techniques suggesting dramatic shifts at all levels of the system.

Other school reformers focus on the incredibly rapid changes that communications and transportation technologies have brought about in the world of work. The economy places demands on school which are shifting. Reformers writing the Economy Script point to the displacement and disappearance of mindless jobs, and the urgent need for students to acquire new skills and competencies. These reformers are driven by the belief that the major function of schooling is to teach students how to be successful in tomorrow economy and making positive choices.

And then there are those whom emphasize our human need to be more responsive to ever growing diversity of people with whom we learn, work and live. Our communities needs citizens who make decisions which address the humanistic needs of all. Schooling, according to the Community Script, is about learning how to live a balanced life that respects the harmony of the environment and the dignity of human life.

The academy, the economy, and the community scripts highlight overlapping functions of school--to help students develop clever minds, competent bodies, and sensitive hearts. Schools need an integrative script to define the curriculum. There are as many different curriculum plans as there are school districts and the arguments for a single national curriculum places all of the script writers in strident competition.

Trying to balance or combine these scripts is only one of challenges facing the the school principal who plays the role of the director in this drama of school reform. The director must work with the producer (superintendent) and within the constraints of the sponsors (state and national departments of education, and state and federal government funding agencies) to create a school performance that can compete for the academy awards. This involves creating the set, the scenes and the staging--the materials and resources--that will support the leading role of the teacher and the dynamic roles of the cast of characters--the students. So assuring school excellence is a major challenge in directing educational reform.


Schools must give all students meaningful roles regardless of their background, language or age. This means the script, the set and the stage must be shaped by those who are cast in the role of learners. New forms of technology are creating new forms of inequality. The school needs to balance the inequalities that exist in the world. Equity of opportunity and access to the tools and skills that are necessary for successful performance are the foundation of public education.

And finally, directing the play is only effective if learners play their roles successfully. As cognitive scientists continue to understand the complex process of learning--of how young people actually come to master important skills-- it suggests different arrangements and interactions between learners and teachers. Previous "traditional" methods of teaching simply aren't effective for the kinds of skills students need in today's world. Student engagement is critical for directing learning.