May 14, 2013

Thinking About More Relevant Schools and Classrooms – from Patrick

The following posts come from Patrick Larkin’s blog Learning in Burlington.

Thinking About More Relevant Schools and Classrooms…Part 1

How can we make sure that their work in school pays off for our students?

(Disclaimer – The concerns I [Patrick] have are not just about the school system where I work or the one where my students attend, they are systemic issues that everyone of us who is impacted by the education of our youth should consider.  Oh yeah, we are all impacted by the education of our youth!)

As I continue to read stories about what is happening in the “real world,” you know the place we are supposed to be preparing our students for, my concerns about the level of preparation that our students will have as they exit our doors.  While I have a good level of confidence that our students will be able to do the basics well (i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic), I am fairly confident that the learning environments that they inhabit within our school walls have not changed and will leave them lacking the skills they will need to prosper in a world where things are changing.
Andreas Schleicher, The Education Director for The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), describes the dilemma as follows in his article The Case for 21st Century Learning:

“It is about how knowledge is generated and applied, about shifts in ways of doing business, of managing the workplace or linking producers and consumers, and becoming quite a different student from the kind that dominated the 20th century. What we learn, the way we learn it, and how we are taught is changing. This has implications for schools and higher level education, as well as for lifelong learning.”

While educational policy makers scream for “accountability,” our students continue to lose out on the relevant experiences that have been ignored or brushed aside as we prepare for the next round of standardized testing.  If you don’t believe me just read the account of Bill Ferriter, a science teacher from North Carolina, and how his classroom will change for the worse next year because of our nation’s test-driven reform policy.
It is time for local communities to come together and focus on a vision for students that will allow teachers to veer from a test-driven agenda and ensure a relevance-driven agenda.  If you agree with Schleicher and his vision (below) of the successful student:

“They are capable not only of constantly adapting, but also constantly learning and growing in a fast-changing world. In a flat world, our knowledge becomes a commodity available to everyone else. As columnist and author Thomas Friedman puts it, because technology has enabled us to act on our imaginations in ways that we could never before, the most important competition is no longer between countries or companies but between ourselves and our imagination.”

As someone who has worked in public education for 20-years, I know the biggest challenge for me is due to my past experiences in school and a lack of imagination to think beyond these experiences. How can we, the adults in the school, overcome our own hurdles to set the stage for a more meaningful experience for our students?

A concluding thought from Schleicher:

“Value is less and less created vertically through command and control-as in the classic teacher instructs student relationship-but horizontally, by whom you connect and work with, whether online or in person.”

Part 2

The headline of an article by from Business News Daily caught my attention recently. The article, Creativity and Connectivity In The Workplace by Kevin Kuske, got me thinking about the field of education and what we can do to foster more creativity and connectivity in our students. While I am confident that there are pockets of very creative things happening, I wonder sometimes if we are lacking in our collective ability to connect these creative undertakings in ways that would allow them to have a more significant impact on our students.

This deficiency is certainly not caused by disinterest on the part of educators, it is due to outdated structures and the lack of experience that educators have had with meaningful connectivity that we have their own learning. Let’s face it, the daily experience for many/most teachers is still to plan the lesson independently, teach the lesson independently, and then to plan and administer assessments independently.

So the fact that “Co-creation is ascending as the new dominant model of innovation, creativity and differentiation” puts a major wrinkle into the previous perception of our role whether we are an administrator, a classroom teacher, or support staff.  This next part is equally problematic for most of us in public schools:

“Creativity, innovation and a strong sense of culture all build off of connections and trust.”

Reducing students and staff to a test score is problematic. Flickr photo via Lyn Hilt

Unfortunately, the model that our nation is following for education reform is one that seems is overly focused on linking teacher performance to a a few days of standardized testing. This model, which was not co-created by educators,  will not do much to build a culture of trust. So while I agree strongly that the “coming together in a shared space is still one of the best ways to build these ties” that will allow us to help out students create and innovate, I wonder how we can ensure the following “effective and desirable” qualities are fostered in staff and students as we also try to meet the prescriptive mandates being thrown at us by education policy makers:

  • Their personality comes through.
  • They have the freedom to be themselves.
  • There is passion for their craft.
  • A sense of community makes them part of something bigger.
  • They have meaningful fun.
  • They have a choice on how and where they want to work.
  • They take time to connect.

Look for a Part Three from Patrick on his blog. He will also be joining EdTechTeacher’s Justin Reich for 21st Century Leadership this summer as well as the next iPad Summit – both events will be held in Boston.