In our world, parents and students now have access to the same information that educators do, and the hope is that this would improve the learning that happens in school. The reality of this is though, that educators have access to information outside of schools and we should be looking towards different organizations and industries, and what they are focusing on and improving their practice. Many educators are doing this now, and you will see things like Google’s “2o% Time” implemented at both the classroom and organizational level with great success. As educators, I really believe we need to look both inside and outside of schools to create the best opportunities for our students.
Here are a few focus areas outside of education, that we should be looking at in schools and make more explicit in our practice.
1. Research and Development
Having a conversation at a recent meeting, the presenter continuously talked about “R & D”, while many sat in the room curious to what the initials stood for. Why is that? Why do we put such little emphasis on “Research and Development” in schools, while others organizations put a much larger emphasis in this area:
“Anthony S. Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, has estimated that other fields spend 5 percent to 15 percent of their budgets on research and development, while in education, it is around 0.25 percent. Education-school researchers publish for fellow academics; teachers develop practical knowledge but do not evaluate or share it; commercial curriculum designers make what districts and states will buy, with little regard for quality. We most likely will need the creation of new institutions — an educational equivalent of the National Institutes of Health, the main funder of biomedical research in America — if we are to make serious headway.” (From “Teachers: Will We Ever Learn“)
Obviously, research is a component of what we do in our classrooms, but are we creating from that process or are we simply reporting? Teachers should be continuous learners and active research should be a component of this (obviously administrators should be finding time to ensure that this happens), and we are more likely to create this experience for students if we experience this ourselves. Actively researching best, new and innovative practices, would only improve our schools.
We spend a lot of time having our students look back at the past, but how much time do we give them to create the future?
2. Entrepreneurial Spirt
The term “entrepreneurial spirit” is something that has been a focus for Alberta Education:
“Entrepreneurial Spirit: who creates opportunities and achieves goals through hard work, perseverance and discipline; who strives for excellence and earns success; who explores ideas and challenges the status quo; who is competitive, adaptable and resilient; and who has the confidence to take risks and make bold decisions in the face of adversity.”
Or their simple definition for students:
“I create new opportunities.”
I have seen many amazing things that have been created in schools only because I happened to be in the school. If students are able to develop an “app”, should they not also have some understanding of how to market it as well? This just not go for the “business minds” in school, but in any and every aspect. A student can be the most amazing artist, but if no one ever sees their work, could they ever end up doing this for a living? I am a firm believer that we should try to give opportunities for students to follow their passions and hopefully make a living from what they love.
Dan Pink shares his belief that all people are in some capacity need the ability to be able to “sell”:
“Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Lawyers sell juries on a verdict. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. Entrepreneurs woo funders, writers sweet-talk producers, coaches cajole players.”
If you think back to your own post-secondary experience in becoming an educator, were you ever actually taught on how to get a job? This is more important than ever with “digital footprints” becoming a large factor in how people in all areas are getting jobs.
We want our students to be able to create amazing things; how do we help them share those creations?
(Check out SCH Academy’s “Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership” to see a very innovative program that is really trying to push the envelope in this areas.)
3. Leadership Development
This is probably a no-brainer for many, but still something that schools need to focus on for their entire community. When I talk about “leadership”, I am not thinking of “being the boss”, but the ability to empower others and be a part in creating a positive culture. I also believe that leadership has to do with ownership, and things that we do in isolation also help us in this pursuit (Sir Ken Robinson is considered a “leader” in education but how many of you know of any affiliations that he has with any single organization?).
Developing leaders should be something that we continue to focus on, or the first two areas that I have discussed will end up being moot.
Although there are “electives” in schools in the above areas, should there not be elements of each in the work that we do everyday? As stated before, this is not just about students, but for it to be successful, these are initiatives that should be available to educators as well. Experience is the best way to create new learning, and if our staff does not understand this, how will our students? We should also look at what we do already in these areas and make some of these initiatives more explicit to our public. Changing the terminology from “staff days” to “Research and Development Day” (or whatever the time length), better communicates the work that we are trying to do, and perhaps creates a better focus for ourselves on what we are trying to do with our professional learning time.
Although a lot of these terms are related to “business”, I see them as valuable opportunities for learning and to create opportunities for our students, not only in their future, but also their present.
I look forward to your thoughts.