Thankfully, there is much talk of change in education at the moment. Sir Ken Robinson’s provocation – nearly 10 years ago – has been simmering away and, in the last few years, genuine ideas have started to emerge. Sir Ken told us why education needs to change, but not how. Well. the how is happening…
But, a word of caution. When we are in the business of breaking moulds… we often create new moulds. When we are finding a new way of doing something, we may substitute it for something that is not that much better.
We need to use the SAMR model as a way of considering all of our pedagogy, all of our ideas and all of the systems in school. We need to make sure we’re not just substituting… and that we are aiming for a redefinition of the school experience. Anything less, really, and we’re not creating real change. Anything less than redefinition and we are just trying to improve things, to augment.
In the current climate of change, why should we aim any lower than redefinition?
I recently gave this talk at the Learning2 Conference in Manila. What I am basically saying is that things need to change, that we need sudden and urgent change in the world and that schools – if we stop deluding ourselves – can be a powerful source of that change.
There are many things about life today that we passively continue to accept:
- that success = money
- that waste is OK
- that pollution is inevitable
- that destruction = progress
- that new is best
- that media = truth
- that Hollywood represents social/cultural ideals
- that school = work
- that education is the key
- that its OK for technology to lead the way
- that we have no control over the future
I could go on… its really interesting to start a list like that! However, its more interesting, and indeed sobering, to look at education and schools through those lenses and to see just how much we perpetuate the things in the list, to see how much we transfer those ways of thinking to kids.
In my talk, I use the metaphor of moulds… and I think I can take this idea one step further by saying that moulds help us to play it safe. I think schools persistently play it safe – we go about our daily existences in fear of persecution from parents, governing bodies, governments, testing companies, universities, media companies, big business, religious groups etc… As a result, not only have we become passive, we have also become rather bland.
I challenge any school to seriously reflect on its impact on society. Has it made a positive impact? Has it made a negative impact? Has it made any impact at all? What is it doing about that?
Everybody goes through school. People’s school “careers” define their futures. So, what kind of futures are we defining? Do we know? Can we be bothered to find out? Are our alumni making a positive impact on society?
These are HUGE questions. But, surely its time to start trying to find out, trying to discover what our actual impact is as perpetuators of the status quo or as agents of change.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not happy with the status quo.
This quote is remarkably true about the Art of Teaching, in many different ways.
The ability to see and make connections is a crucial ingredient for a genuine modern teacher. It is our ability to see and make connections that enables us to integrate subjects, to make learning inter-connected and to see that learning – in many shapes or forms – exists in every single moment.
In my experience, there are teachers who – regardless of training or qualifications – just have the ability to walk into a classroom and see the relationships and connections that exist between the types of learning going on. For example, they can see how a student’s desire to learn how to cook is also an opportunity for them to develop their ability to read, do measurement and understand scientific principles. They can also see beyond that into the possibilities of writing and publishing cookbooks, publishing recipes online, creating tutorial videos and developing their ability to explain through speaking as well as writing.
There are also teachers who need to see it to get it, who need to be shown… maybe a few times. These teachers may need to rid themselves of their own experiences as a student – some of these are very deeply ingrained – as these may have limited their ability to see connections for some time. They may also need to rid themselves of the things they learned when they were being trained as teachers. Many teachers were, to put it bluntly, trained to be very dull, disconnected educators. Some of them burst out of those shackles as soon as they see what it is truly possible to achieve with students, others may take a little more coaxing – its a bit like the different ways that animals react when released from a cage!
Sadly, there are also teachers who will simply never see the connections that exist between different types of learning and will, therefore, never make those connections for their students. Their teaching will forever remain as isolated lessons and skills. The thing is – these are often lessons that do need to be learned, and skills that do need to be developed. So we have a real dilemma about what to do with these teachers. Do we try and get rid of them? A year with them could, and often does, put a student off learning forever. Or do we treat it as a “year-in-waiting”, a year developing crucial skills that the students will – eventually – begin to see the purpose of later when, if, they are fortunate enough to have some time with someone who helps them make those connections?
There are many exciting things emerging in education at the moment.
All sorts of educational big-wigs are blowing us away with their theories about how learning should be. Revolutionary ideas about the power of allowing students to work on the things that really interest them or the intrinsic motivation of allowing kids to focus on making, doing and creating are eloquently being delivered in high profile keynote speeches.
And, it seems, school decision-makers are listening.
This is, of course, exciting.
But, for many of us… those teachers who have been giving our students these opportunities for many years – and often getting in trouble for it – the feelings are mixed. There is a sense of frustration, and exhaustion, among those of us who have been swimming against the tide for so long. We cannot help thinking of all those times we got called in to be told to “stop doing that stuff because the other teachers aren’t doing it”. We cannot help lamenting our fallen colleagues – those who were so good that their difference from the masses led to their downfall. We cannot help feeling sad about leaving schools we have given up on and moved on, again, in the hope of being surrounded by more like minds. We cannot help thinking about all those “nearly” teachers who almost developed the strength to teach differently, but didn’t quite make it.
Sounds like sour grapes, doesn’t it? At times like these, teachers like these face a serious dilemma. Do we say “I told you so”? Do we react negatively and pompously and become a bit of an ass about it? Do we turn in on ourselves, because that has been our survival strategy for so long?
No. We are surfers… and the big wave we have been waiting for is approaching. Yes, we have been honing our skills on all the small waves on the inside for a long time – and we’ve been bashed about a bit in the process. But, our wave is finally on the way… and we need to re-position ourselves, make sure we are in the right place and enjoy the ride.
We deserve it.
Photo by Jeff Rowley
After the first few pages of the book I started reading yesterday, I was already questioning the way my profession works – I work in international schools which are all committed by their mission statements to making the world a better place.
The story begins on a rubbish dump in an Asian city and follows a family that ekes out an existence by sifting through everyone’s waste.
People live that type of life in all of the cities and countries in which international schools exist. As they make their way to another day of “making the world a better place”, our students pass those people without noticing they exist. Let’s not kid ourselves either… most teachers do too. You see, I am not sure we are all doing this in order to improve the world… I have a sneaky suspicion that we’re doing it for the domestic help, the incredible lifestyle and the exotic holidays. Luxuries possible only because of the massive divide between rich and poor.
Many of our schools perpetuate that divide. Many offer zero scholarships. Many pay their local staff so little that they are desperate for overtime just to survive. Many have deplorable environmental practices. Many make no real expectation that members of its community will ever really look or see beyond their own needs.
I wonder when we will start to see the evidence of the world being a better place because of our schools. I wonder when we will see these big, wealthy establishments putting their money where their mouths are. I wonder when we will stop tolerating the things we know are going on around us and actually do something about it. I wonder when we will stop waiting for the world to be a better place and actually make an effort to have an impact.
I wonder when we will go and get that family from the rubbish dump, give them a home and a job and educate their child. “Oh, but we can’t do that for every family” is the predictable opt-out clause for that one, of course. But, we can do it for one family… which is better than doing it for none. Maybe then our mission statements will be possible, visible and tangible and not just some lofty, ambiguous ideal that we will never really be accountable for.
Children who attend international schools should be the luckiest children around. Not because the schools have the best facilities and because they get to go to a tropical beach at the weekend. They should be lucky because they are surrounded by reality, a reality that is often beautiful but in need of attention. They should be lucky because they live in places where it is possible to make a difference. They should be lucky to know how good that feels.
Children learn by doing. What exactly is it that we have them doing towards making our mission statements real?
Here are the PowerPoint slides that I used when wrapping up the three Language Arts meetings about our beliefs and values. I wanted to try and make sure you left feeling as though you had been part of something purposeful, and something that will be sustained.
Hopefully, each of the teaching teams should now know about the “Team Presentation”.
Homeroom Coordinators, please make a brief comment to share your team’s thoughts on how to go about doing the presentations. Hopefully, this will serve the dual purpose of sharing ideas and illustrating how flexible the task is and how important it is that teams present in a way that represents who they are.