I was charged by a colleague and friend for being someone who wanted big change. Guilty.
I was charged by the same colleague and friend for being someone who expected people to recognize the need for change. Guilty.
Her claim was that I expected big sweeping changes and I don’t give enough credit to small incremental change and that the latter is the only thing that will make the big changes we need.
And she might be right. Maybe I need to focus on the little changes.
A teacher sets up a class website. Celebrate. A teacher uses some formative assessment. Celebrate. A teacher uses one less worksheet. Celebrate.
I see her point, that if I’m so stuck on waiting for the big stuff, I never acknowledge the movement that is taking place. At a certain point, I try to rely on that. I pride myself on my “incremental change” when it comes to the environment, my buying habits and parlaying principles into actions. I recognize that I can’t live free of all the damage we do. I always say the best step you can take is the next one.
But this is different, isn’t it? Education is already 10 years behind.
The way our students interact with the world is changing so much quicker than incremental change will allow. Check out youtube, Khan Academy, heck even Instructables, they are all a demonstration that education is now truly public. Something is being added to that list weekly. A spot where any student can get what they need and to know what they need is within reach.
Yet, we rely on textbooks and worksheets. A fixed place, time and subject of learning. We still expect students to sit still and listen to me. Non-stop, all day in subjects we deem important.
And so I say to my colleague and friend, I am guilty of wanting big change. I am guilty of expecting people to recognize the change and make it happen. Because, the way I see it, incremental change is important, but it’s not enough.
It is too easy to shut off when you don’t hear what you want. It is easy as a teacher to walk away, shut your door and go on with what you are doing.
At the opening ceremonies of a Fire Chiefs conference I attended yesterday, the opening speaker, the Fire Chief of Kitchener said, “To continue the progress that is needed, we must come together and have discussions and debates. Sometimes we will agree. Sometimes we will agree to disagree, but we must always agree to keep discussing.”
This struck a chord.
Too often there is disagreement and then silence. We can lose semesters easily in poorly designed and implemented professional dialogue strategies where the only people who suffer from our lack of discussion are our students. Silence is not leadership.
We need to disconnect the idea for education from our personal investment and be willing to undertake disagreement. If someone disagrees, it is not a personal affront.
No one theory, idea or reasoning is right. I get that. It is the integration of ideas in the discussion that often determines a great course of action. However, too many voices in the education discussion are silent.
For some, it is by choice. We need to encourage these quiet innovators to open their door to the world and encourage their participation. For some, it is by habit. We need to encourage these experienced educators to join the conversation. For some, it is because they have been silenced before. We need to encourage these professionals that our students and education need their voice.
These “difficult discussions” are essential to our mitigating of the rough waters of the education revolution.
In all my blog entires, I encourage you to disagree with me. Challenge my thinking. We will all come out better on the other side. Let’s agree to keep discussing.
Jerry Seinfeld works on his material, practices it, performs it, perfects it and then uses it. Over and over. He has said that every year he throws out only 20% of his previous year’s material and builds on the 80%.
George Carlin was known for building towards an HBO special, filming it, and then never performing one of those jokes again. The minute the special was over, he started working on the next one.
So, who has grasped the nature of innovation? Who would you pay to see? Who is better? More effective?
What does this mean for teachers. Is it prudent to keep 80% and hone it, tweak it until perfection and building only 20% from scratch or should we build the structure one year, toss it out when we’ve got a new group of students in front of us? If we recycle lessons that have worked in the past, are we diminishing the opportunities for our students?
Some interesting conversations happened today around the nature of accepting what has been done in the past and tweaking it and honing it or should we start from scratch, recognize the revolution and build anew and I’m not sure where I fall. Generally, my classes don’t look the same from year to year, but I do recycle elements, good or bad? Is that the balancing between the ideal and the practical?
I realize this post is a series of contradicting questions, but this is what is rolling through my head today.
A while back my vision of students as independent learners was challenged. It was suggested that maybe I’m giving them too much credit. The challenge went on to cite that the cognitive development of teenagers made it inherently difficult for them to be independent.
And therein lies my struggle.
I believe the best learning and the most motivated learner is one where autonomy, mastery and purpose are the cornerstones. So, how do you find the balance between the independent nature of authentic learning and the challenge of the limitations of the teenage brain?
The answer may lie in interdependency. However, therein lies the next struggle, for something to be truly interdependent, both things must rely on each other.
Ultimate teacher control is the death of interdependency. And the death of true authentic learning.
To reshape the dynamic for authentic learning and to create an environment of interdependence, teachers must relinquish control. This does, however, come at a price. The price of preparation. The price of assessment. The price of the traditional definition of what it means to teach.
It is not the dependency of students or their limited ability to learn independently that needs to be re-evaluated/reworked. But it is to the adults in the room to choose that authentic, inquiry-based learning is in fact the nature of public education.
Students are learning independently through video games, their social networks, what they choose to read. The content of their context is without question. However, when we look at formal education and the baseline skills that we think our functioning society requires of its citizens, we need to figure a way into the sphere of their learning.
I acknowledge and reflect that independent teenage learners is not ideal. They don’t have the physiological capabilities to acknowledge their own cognitive limitations. Thus a move to interdependence is needed.
The dependent model of education is over.
Students are ready and willing to join us in a relationship of interdependence, so it is up to us to join them.
The best professional development I’ve ever had involves conversations. It is sitting down with a colleague and discussing, debating, and dissecting pedagogy, something we read, our experiences, an assignment. It’s when I get to float my ideas out and they are supported, questioned, prodded and challenged.
In these conversations, nothing is taken personally. We have a mutual agreement that the ideas we set forth are just that, ideas. They are not tied to our professionalism. We are willing to talk in radical measures. We encourage each other to be risk takers, challenge the norm.
This is true professional development.
And thus why I suggest a day of professional conversation. I’d like to arrange a group of friends, colleagues, teachers and other educational revolutionaries to join together in an un-conference in Southwestern Ontario. Through crowd-sourcing we’ll set the agenda. Maybe four – six topics. Rather than presentations, we’ll nominate facilitators.
Together we will create the professional development we want.
I’m thinking a Saturday or Sunday in May or June. This gives us time to organize a keynote to start our day.
Please fill out this form if you are interested in joining us: Professional Development Un-Conference
Any questions, ask away…
Too often I find myself defending my choices against the argument of the lowest common denominator.
We shouldn’t open up the firewall because students will be distracted. We shouldn’t try something new because parents might complain. We shouldn’t give students too much control because they might waste their time. Giving teachers control over their own professional development will lead to wasted time. We need standardized testing because we need to make sure teachers are doing their job. All arguments of the lowest common denominator.
When will we give the benefit of the doubt?
It is time to look to the greatest potential to try something. No more looking down.
It is a cultural thing. If we set the culture in the classroom, the profession, the public that schools, teachers and students will be great, they will be. No more risk aversion for fear of the lowest common denominator.
I know I’ll be told, “In the real world” all the times people disappoint, they fall on the bar that is set so low. But I refuse to believe that is reason enough to build our culture around such low expectations.
I set the bar high.
I expect more from my students and my colleagues. I expect more from myself.
It is time.
No more lowest common denominator arguments. When I expect people to be great, they seem to rise to the occasion.
Much of the conversation in the edububble talks about where we are today. What we need to be teaching and structuring our classes like today. I want to push that.
What is the classroom going to look like, operate like and be in 20 years?
It is not enough that we talk 21st Century Skills, we need to be creating the ethic for 21.5 Century schooling.
If we don’t start today thinking about tomorrow, we’ll find our students here again. Another today different then yesterday, but longing to be taught for tomorrow.
After I finished my last post, I decided that a fourth phrase is needed:
“So, who’s with me?”
If we are looking at a learning environment that is distributed, asynchronous, collaborative and ultimately, personalized, how and why are we evaluating students?
It is constantly suggested that teachers are moving into the role of “facilitators” of learning, and “co-learners”, how then do we hold a position that ‘can’ evaluate? Now, I understand the political and social pressure to maintain status quo when it comes to giving a grade, but isn’t the nature of this educational shift removed the standardization, including what it means to be a proficient Grade 11 English student, for example?
To take that further, how do we know when students are “ready” to further their learning? “Ready” to progress into University? If learning looks different for each student, is there any common ground?
All in all, we need to re-think evaluation.
Through the power of connection, experience and affirmation, 18,000 students and “change agents” were treated to We Day 2010 in Toronto today. I was fortunate enough to lead a group of students from my school to hear speakers like Deepak Chopra, Spencer West, Betty Williams, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish and Michael Chikwanine. We were also treated to performances by K’naan, Down with Webster, Rocky Dawuni and Greyson Chance. The entire thing was, of course, facilitated by Marc and Craig Kielburger.
The message was simple and clear. As a generation, it is time to make a change by being the change. Each speaker was able to offer their story and modification to that message. A few of the high points:
Deepak Chopra reminded the youth of the world that the world is a series of questions and answers. We must be asking the BIG questions of life and living the answers. But sometimes, we will not find the answer and it will not be revealed to us simply, so we have to remember to “live the questions.” We have to have faith that “there are no missing pieces”. One of his greatest messages was that “action without love is irrelevant.” Everything that we do must precipitate from a place of peace and love. He implored the crowd to “awaken yourself to your deeper identity”, to explore not just your physical, social, mental and spiritual side but go deeper into the core of your being where you will find that helping others is what we are here for and to recognize the “power of intention.” One of my favourite quotes he used was, “A dream we dream alone remains a dream. A dream we dream together, with action, becomes your reality.” The notion of connectedness ran through his entire exploration of the self through service. What a powerful dialogue!
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish told of his story, how he lost his three daughters to violence and decided that he would not let hate into his life. He showed a deep and unbridled passion for peace and understanding. He implored that “our real enemy is our ignorance.” That it is our duty and responsibility to connect with others because we don’t know each other enough.
Betty Williams had a profound message of power. Reading to us a declaration of independence for children around the world, she finished by saying that all abusers and violators of children worldwide, take note, we will hold you completely responsible for your actions. I could have listened to her talk of her experiences for another 15 – 30 minutes easily. Not to mention that sweet Northern Irish accent!
Finally, Spencer West, without a lower half of his body spoke of the importance for humility and gratitude for everything life provides saying, “be gracious and humble enough to know when you need help and to ask for help.” He reminded everyone that we need to be part of the community, “to give help and to ask for help.”
Overall, the message and the day were reminders to all to connect, affect, respect and to protect each other and to listen to the call for “Freedom”, to answer the call and to take real action. I think I leave with a reminder that it is our responsibility to work in the service of others always.
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