Joe Bower is a good friend of mine and someone that I really look up to in the field of education. Although we don’t always agree with each other, I know that we both respect each other’s point of views. I am an avid reader of his blog (you should be too) and was particularly interested in his latest post titled, “Who should control teachers’ professional learning?”
Although there is somewhat of a political nature that is involved in his post, two statements that Joe made really stick out to me:
- I summarize my worse learning experiences as top-down, externally mandated, out-of-context, irrelevant to me and little to no purpose events that I am expected to play a passive role. I own my learning. Who owns yours?
- Who owns a teacher’s professional development? And under what circumstances would the answer to the above question ever be someone other than the teacher? To avoid cultures of compliance, teachers need autonomy.
So do I disagree with Joe on what he has said and questioned here? Yes AND no.
As a teacher, I would agree with the statement made about some of his worst learning experiences being top down. As an administrator, I also see the need of having a vision and purpose that a team works together. My job is to work with my staff to develop some school objectives, not simply dictate them to staff. I also believe that teachers should be able to further their own learning in many different areas.
Although we are often isolated in our classrooms as educators, teachers should not work in isolation. They should be a part of a team that works together to build the best environments for students, and looks at kids as part of a school, not simply part of a classroom. Many people refer to Dan Pink’s work in “Drive” regarding motivation, on the notion of autonomy, yet they often leave out the element he writes about purpose.
Sorry for using a sports analogy, but Michael Jordan was the best player in the NBA yet won no championships until Phil Jackson took over the team (6 championships with the Bulls, and 5 with the Lakers; the guy is pretty good). As the coach, he had the team work towards a common goal, while each defining their role in serving the larger purpose. Autonomy and purpose. That is how individuals work together to serve a higher purpose. Does his quote below have any relation to the work that we do in schools?
“Basketball is a sport that involves the subtle interweaving of players at full speed to the point where they are thinking and moving as one.” Phil Jackson
We talk about change a lot, and it starts with one person, yet there needs to be a team working together to make it sustainable. Often a great teacher in a weak school either becomes a weak teacher or leaves. The opposite is often true. What are we aiming for? A few great individual teachers in schools, or great schools with a culture of great teaching?
Now I am not saying that teachers do not need autonomy over their learning; they absolutely do (kids too right?). I am just saying that it is not an “either/or” proposition. We tend to watch the pendulum swing from one side to the other, often missing the ideal middle with a lot of our initiatives.
Group work serves some, where others excel working in isolation.
Lecture isn’t bad; lecture all of the time is bad. Reflection time is essential.
Skills do not develop if you do not have the knowledge to build upon.
I won’t take away your pencil, if you don’t take away my computer. Both work for the person that has chosen to use them.
I guess my point is that shifting from extremes on either end is rarely beneficial. I believe, as Sir Ken Robinson says, that education needs transformation more than reformation, but does that mean we throw out everything that we have done? If education is to be truly personalized, we need to find out what works for different people while also working together to find what our current strengths are and build upon them as well.
If we always stand on opposite sides, will we ever truly move forward?