I’ve been posting blogs to my website since the fall of 2017. To date, I have posted 170 articles, each of them designed to promote, or explore, one of the following broad themes:
We must teach kids in a way that supports their opportunity to find personal relevance and meaning with what is being taught.
We must actively seek ways and methods to personalize the educational experience for all children.
Curiosity and creativity must be thoughtfully integrated into the learning students are subjected to.
We must reassess what it is we expect kids to know and be able to demonstrate, while allowing their schooling to be consistent with the expectations of our 21st century society and economy.
We must ennoble teachers, and redefine the role they play.
Just that. Nothing more complicated than redefining the profession to do better and to do differently; allowing our students to successfully embrace a new reality and to discover who they are.
What’s so hard about that? Apparently, everything.
How many mountains have I moved? Not many.
So, why in the world do I persist in this exercise? After all, I retired from a thirty-five year career of serving kids and their families. Shouldn’t that be enough? Isn’t it time to move on to new things?
I retired from my position as a building principal. I retired from the daily obligations of managing a school. I retired from the endless series of meetings and external expectations that seem to define the daily experience of a site administrator. However, even though I am no longer aroused by a 5:00 AM alarm, I did not retire from trying to be an effective instructional leader or from advancing the discussion of what a quality, contemporary public education, an education kids deserve, should look like. While I may have stopped the clock on my active school-based career, the clock of my experience, and my resulting perspectives, continues to run.
So here is my New Year’s resolution - to continue asking “what if . . . “ in a quest to improve the experience and outcomes for all kids in our public schools while tapping into the expertise of teachers in new and more meaningful ways.
Just that. No big deal.
It’s Important that article 171 begin with a foundational understanding of a key truth.
When systems rushed into the resumption of in-person instruction this past fall, they did so with a longing and yearning expectation that if they could safely get everybody on campus, they could pick up where they left off; that everything would fall into place and things would go back to normal. Well, that didn’t happen. Quite simply, it didn’t happen because it couldn’t. As human beings, we are focused on moving forward. While the past may offer some nostalgic memories, we don’t have the luxury of “do overs” by going back to anything in our life experience. We now find ourselves at a critical juncture in our collective experience, one where we abandon the lure of the rear view mirror and focus, instead, on moving forward toward a new normal.
Sugata Mitra argues that attempts at reverting back to normal would be “a disaster.” Professor Mitra is an often outspoken critic of traditional approaches to education in the United Kingdom and across the world. Often, his suggestions on how to improve education systems are viewed as being a bit radical. In recent years he has been critical of assessments that focus on knowledge over comprehension and he has advocated that students should be given more freedom to manage their own learning. As educators struggled to find appropriate instructional adjustments during the pandemic, many of his ideas became almost visionary. People listen when he speaks, including during TED presentations or at the upcoming 2022 World Education Summit.
Mitra identifies some compelling bits of evidence from the shared Covid-19 experience that should assist in moving education in new and meaningful directions; evidence that would prove disastrous if over looked. He cites four big “take aways” that should shape “normal” moving forward.
Students need more time to learn for themselves. Much like his studies that involved “self-organized learning environments,” the recent reliance on computer technologies has provided students greater opportunities to take charge of their learning, while allowing the role of teachers to shift toward “safe encouragement.” The teacher doesn’t stop teaching. But, they focus on asking questions. “A wonderful way to start one of these lessons is to say ‘I have a question today and I don’t know the answer.’ Children love that.”
Online learning doesn’t need a classroom. Mitra suggests that the extensive use of technologies during pandemic instruction afforded many opportunities. However, he contends that educators made the mistake of using technology to replicate classrooms. “We were trying to make an automobile behave like a horse and cart. We do not need classrooms over the internet. We need different kinds of learning environments. Some self-organized by learners, some guided by teachers.”
Teachers can provide accurate assessments. In many instances, standardized assessments were set aside during remote teaching and learning. Teacher assessments became the reliable gold standard. In Professor Mitra’s view, a return to standardized assessment is not an example of moving forward.
Exams should allow technology and the web. Mitra believes that technologies, as tools of learning, need to be fully integrated into the instructional fabric. For him, the ability to recall knowledge comes second to the “three C’s”: computing, comprehension and communication. “By testing for these three things alone, the way schools operate wii be transformed.”
(The above perspectives of Sugata Mitra were sourced from a recent article in Tes Magazine.)
Let it be resolved that 2022 is a year to boldly move forward toward a new normal; toward “what’s next.” This is best accomplished by acknowledging the lessons of the past, while forging ahead with innovative and creative solutions that are guided by a fundamental question.
What if . . . ?