Meet Dr. Suzanne Freeman
Suzanne (@SuzanneKFreeman) is an Education Consultant. She has over 31 years of service in public education as a teacher, principal and superintendent. She served as superintendent for over 15 years of three different districts, two of which were start-up school districts. In 2009 Suzanne was Alabama Superintendent of the Year and a finalist for National Superintendent of the Year.
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Follow Suzanne on Twitter @SuzanneKFreeman
What is my purpose for writing this blog?
First, I want to cause people to think about what could be for our children, the next generation of leaders. Second, I want to inspire educators, parents, young learners (students), and leaders to use their influence to transform existing schools or create new schools with a culture of intellectual curiosity where all learners (students) have ownership over their learning and are inspired to think, solve real-world problems, innovate, create, and become the best version of themselves, including becoming lifelong learners.
Why am I writing this blog?
There are many bloggers and “experts” who are writing about education. I am adding my voice to this discussion because I believe we underestimate what children are capable of knowing, creating, and becoming. The needs of children have changed and the world around them has changed, yet many schools have not adapted to this change. I want to use my experience to help others transform and/or create schools that are responsive to how children learn, rather than forcing children to adapt to schools that were designed for a different time (industrial age) and purpose.
As a practitioner, I had the privilege of opening an innovative school as a principal. As my career progressed, I had the opportunity to start multiple new school systems as superintendent. Each of these systems pushed the boundaries of what is possible for our children. I am a trailblazer who has experienced and learned from successes and failures. I want to share my experiences (both “mountain top” and “valleys”), my learning, and my wonderings to inform the field of education and inspire others who believe schools should be transformed from school-centered to learner-centered environments.
I am a lifelong learner and am constantly growing deeper in my own understanding about the nature of schools, teaching, learning, creating culture, leadership, building capacity, etc. I first started thinking about what could be when I started teaching in 1986. I thought then, there has to be a better way for children to learn than teaching from textbooks and workbooks. During my first year as a teacher, I started graduate school as well as started reading, attending conferences, talking with colleagues and most importantly started creating a more engaging, learner-centered environment in my classroom. A fellow first year teacher and I sought and received special permission from our principal and superintendent to implement a thematic-integrated curriculum we designed. We inspired our learners to write for a purpose and read real books (not basal readers). Like all teachers, I wish I could go back and teach these same children with what I know now . . . and yet I am still learning.
When I became a superintendent in 2000, I was invited to join the The Schlechty Center’s Superintendent Leadership Network. This network had a profound influence on my leadership by causing me to think about the structure and purpose of school (more on this in future blog posts). One of my favorite quotes from the late Phillip Schlechty is that [student engagement] is common sense, but not common practice. This really resonates with me. I have always been able to envision what learning/school should look like, but the real challenge is having systems and processes in place that cause this to happen. I will write more about this in future blog posts.
More recently, I have had the opportunity to join the Progressions Team for Education Reimagined. Education Reimagined has created a community of learner-centered educators and leaders and this learner-centered movement is consistent with my philosophy. In addition, this has given me an opportunity to visit and learn from schools across the country who are focused on transforming schools into learner-centered environments (more on this in future blog posts).
Over the years, there have been several colleagues and leaders in education whom I have learned from; they have challenged and influenced my thinking. They engaged with me, challenged me, questioned me, trusted me, disagreed with me, inspired me, partnered with me and were fully committed to this important work. They are more than colleagues; they are my family.
My two children inspire me the most. They are now grown adults and both college graduates. Ryan and Emily inspired me to want more for them and in turn want more for all the learners I have had the privilege of serving. They are very different from one another and yet both very bright and talented in their own right. Ryan is an artist and Emmy is a nurse. Because I love learning so much, experiencing the thrill of learning, mastering, or creating something new, especially when it is challenging, made me want to give this gift to all children.
My Beliefs about Education:
Beliefs about Schools:
- I believe a strong public education system is essential to preserve democracy. I was previously opposed to charter schools; however, I think some charter schools can serve as models for public schools. Nonetheless, my ultimate preference would be for public schools to have freedom from bureaucratic regulations and the will to transform public schools into joyous places for learning.
- I believe public schools are better than they have ever been and yet public schools are not as good as they need to be.
- I believe schools should be focused on creating lifelong learners who use their knowledge, skills, and influence to make the world a better place.
- I believe public education should value patriotism and teach our children to be civic minded and service oriented so they are equipped and empowered to become leaders and contributors to society.
- I believe local communities should have influence and ownership over their schools.
Beliefs about Learning:
- I believe the world is changing and students are different than previous generations because of globalization, the impact of various technologies, access to information and the changing family structure.
- I believe that in order for children to learn at high levels, which includes being able to retain and apply their learning to new situations, they must be genuinely engaged.
- I believe students are more engaged when they are solving real problems for a real audience.
- I believe children must not only be consumers of knowledge, but they must be creators, publishers, and world changers.
- I believe students must be empowered to have ownership over their learning and inspired to think, innovate and create.
- I believe learners will do challenging work when failure is embraced as a valuable part of the learning process and they feel safe and valued.
- I believe meaningful learning can occur any time and at any location.
- I believe children should learn content and develop skills at a profound level as well as develop their ability to learn how to learn, think, explore, create, innovate, apply their learning to new situations, embrace failure as a valuable learning tool, and be resilient.
- I believe that grades are not always a reflection of learning. (Some students just learn how to “do school” without profoundly learning.)
- I believe that test scores measure some content knowledge and skills: however, they are not always a true indicator of profound learning, are very limited in what they assess, are oftentimes misunderstood by parents, media and politicians, and are a single snapshot of a limited scope of knowledge. They also do not measure attitudes toward learning, habits of mind or skills and dispositions that are valued in the arts.
Beliefs about Those Who Inspire our Learners to Learn:
- I believe all members of the school community should treat each other like family and have a common set of beliefs that unite their efforts as a team. I also believe that working in education is missional.
- I believe that every member of the school community contributes to student learning and should be a continuous learner.
- I believe there must be a culture of intellectual curiosity among adults and students for a school to be effective (when teachers and school leaders love learning, so do students).
- I believe teachers are designers, facilitators, navigators, mentors, encouragers, and leaders who continuously work on improving the learning experiences designed for students and should be highly respected experts who have a local and global impact on teaching and learning.
- I believe parents are valuable partners and members of the school community.
Beliefs about Leadership:
- I believe in servant leadership - - putting others before yourself and focusing on what is best for those whom we have the privilege of serving/educating.
- I believe effective leadership is essential to a school’s (and school system’s) success.
- I believe the superintendent, principals and other school/system leaders should be lifelong learners who have a local and global impact on teaching and learning.
- I believe school leaders (superintendents, school board members, principals, etc.) must have the moral courage to do what is best for learners.
- I believe the superintendent and school board should function as a team, advocate for students, create capacity and build community.
- I believe community members are valuable partners and must be involved in their schools.
Follow me on Twitter @SuzanneKFreeman