School can happen anywhere

Transforming education

Sheri Blades, Phillips Elementary School Teacher
Published on September 14, 2020

I am writing to the leaders of our valley to ask for dialogue and collaboration to transform how we educate our community.

Teacher-Sheri-BladesI am a dedicated teacher in the Napa Valley Unified School District and I am passionate about education. This summer, I spent my time enhancing my teaching skills and toolbox of resources. I am a NapaLearns-sponsored graduate student at Touro University.

When I complete my studies, my master’s degree will be in Innovative Education. This coursework has significantly improved my teaching practices and opened my eyes to the need to transform our educational system. I also attended many virtual professional development webinars and online classes over the past year.

Additionally, this summer I continued teaching my first graders every Thursday at 9 a.m. A core group of 8 to 11 students volunteered to attend, so I kept showing up for them. During our time together, I was able to implement my new learning and get feedback from them about my new ideas or resources.

What I have taken to heart the most is that school is not just a building.

It’s a community where learning takes place. School can happen anywhere because good teachers create the environment of learning. If done well, students are motivated to learn and are engaged.

My goal is to create an environment where learning becomes play-like. This philosophy is why the core group of students shows up and participates each Thursday. Don’t get me wrong. When I say “play;” we are still using the district curriculum, but how we demonstrate our learning and what we do allows for student voice and choice with innovative components like practicing vocabulary in a game or creating a monster to talk about emotions. I’ve dramatically adjusted my approach in order to engage students and compete with distractions.

I’m writing because I have been frustrated with our education system.

Through my summer learning, I now understand why. Our education system was founded on principles from the Industrial Revolution. At that time, the goal was job training and mass production. Despite giant leaps in technology, the needs of learners evolving, and our communities becoming more global, our “traditional” school system hasn’t changed enough.

How can we work together to improve our education system, which will improve our community? How can we continue to transform the traditional education model to promote the core competencies that are needed?

NVUSD has a gold mine of innovative educators.

With time and focus, we could serve as education leaders in this pandemic. With support from organizations like NapaLearns, NVUSD could be the district that shows others how to move smartly and seamlessly into distance learning and when the time is right, back into in-person learning. Let’s devote the time and resources needed for high-quality distance learning until our pandemic situation stabilizes. It might be a few weeks, months or even a year. And when I say “stabilizes,” I’m not talking about the 14 days of not being on a county watch list. Rather, I’m referring to a few months of stable declines in COVID-19 cases.

Children are resilient and they will pick up on the views and tones of our community. In-person learning is the preferred traditional method, However, there are alternative solutions. We need to start adjusting our post-industrial ways to leap forward into the 21st century and beyond. When COVID-19 stabilizes and confidence is restored within our communities and district, I would love to return to in-person teaching and carry the transformative thinking and distance learning tools with me.

We live in uncertain times due to climate change, natural disasters, and now a pandemic.

Hopefully the silver lining of these terrible realities is an education system that serves our community with respect, grace, and ingenuity. Please support our teachers.

Thank you for your time and future collaboration.

Be safe. Be smart. Be kind.
Sheri Blades
First Grade Lead Teacher
Phillips Magnet Elementary School