18 Comments

  1. Abby Dalen

    Excellent post, George! From the outset of this reading, I also identified myself as falling somewhere in between the two “camps” on education “reform” that you mentioned. I think it has been something of a tradition throughout the history of education that “reform” moves in a pendulum-like fashion to one extreme, then back to the other. I think that breaking through to that sometimes uncomfortable territory somewhere in the middle is where the best learning can happen. Only by stepping outside of that comfy zone of familiarity and pushing through the structured walls of thought we have erected within our minds can we truly begin to empower students and create classroom cultures of authenticity and real world relevance.

    @AbbyDalen

  2. I agree we’re unlikely to get away from standardized tests anytime soon. But if it were an option, I’m not sure how I’d respond to parents / students considering opting out…

    BUT what I would do is absolutely rebel against teaching-to-the-test!!! I am willing to sacrifice the time wasted (yes, wasted) when students take those meaningless tests. The good news: The students will do better on the standardized tests as long as the learning facilitated is aligned with the standards (supposedly as the standardized tests are).

    Is that ‘innovating inside the box’???

  3. Curricula are constructs, boxes that small groups of dedicated people created within a political mandate (I was one of those). Some (many) curricula are outdated and ask teachers to deliver out-of-context knowledge that has little or no relevance. The fur trade should not be “taught” as a separate thing–taught the fur trade unit, check. It will take many years for curriculum to be developed that meets the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report but teachers can act immediately in the curriculum they teach and make it relevant. Innovative teachers will make learning and knowledge fit in context (personal, classroom, community, city, province…). It is the innovative and connected teachers and administrators who will create and recreate new curriculum, not education departments. (See Michael Fullan: http://www.michaelfullan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/LeadershipfromtheMiddle_EdCan_v55no4.pdf)

    There are no curriculum police, but there are humans, unique learners who deserve meaningful, relevant learning opportunities in our classrooms. Rather ask, what is best for the learner? (Enjoyed your book, George). It isn’t complying to a static curriculum written for a generic, indeterminate audience.

    So, how we teach? Once we’re clear WHY we teach, we teach first by learning who the learners are in our care. In caring about who they are, we then care about what we ask them to do–see Nel Noddings on this.

    I teach by being curious and by learning every day.
    @barry_dyck

  4. I totally agree with you George, it is definitely an Art form. As well, there is a certain skill set that is needed and a willingness to step out there and look for ways to engage todays children. I would lean towards Group 2 and yet. have the restraints of what we are required to do. As an administrator I work hard to encourage our team to look at different ways to get students excited and curious about their learning. I guess we can be a change agent in our own schools.

  5. I think that the lines between the two camps are a little fuzzier than we sometimes pretend. There is a sense in which the accountability movements that began in the 1980’s in many districts have actually been responsible for creating the rich conversations that we have now. In many ways, calls for greater accountability have opened up the doors of districts and schools in ways that they were never open before.

    I’m not arguing that focusing on test scores is healthy. It has taken its toll, to be sure. And, as educators, we need to participate in reclaiming some of what we’ve lost.

    I think that we need to move towards systems that are both accountable and responsive to all learners. I don’t think that its an either/or thing.

    I don’t think that we’ll ever go back to a loosening of the accountability requirements, but there is another sense in which innovation seldom emerges when conditions are “just right”. In fact, I would argue that innovation is a product of constraint and restriction. I believe that it takes place at the intersection of “no you can’t” and “why not?”

    • Andy MacLeod

      Your final paragraph reminds me so much of the phrase: “Necessity is the mother of invention”. No restraints can often be overwhelming and too many hinders, so that intersection should be the ideal place for innovation to occur.

  6. Spiri Howard

    I agree and as usual, would like to add something :) Group 2 definitely…and I do think teaching is an art form, absolutely. We all have our own unique way of teaching. The “how” as you mention it, is important, because we are thinking of our students and the best way to reach them. However, I also feel that the “what” is just as important. I see curriculum as a path. A path which one runs to reach a goal. Even the word curriculum itself comes from the the Latin word ‘curers’ which means to run. Why do you feel that this path is less important? Do you feel we shouldn’t have a path to follow? I see the “what” of curriculum as a living, breathing document that must be reflective of our times. Times change and they change quickly. The needs of our life go on changing, education is continuously changing, and because of this, schools cannot go on with an old, stale curriculum. Curriculum should be constantly evolving. The content has to be selected according to the changing needs of society in general and the subject in particular. So, in my eyes, the “what” is just as important if not even more important than the “how”. The “how” makes the impact, but the “what” is relevant to our life and times. Just a thought :)

  7. I have been following your posts since you were the keynote speaker at Google Camp in Toronto. Thank you for the provocative and helpful insights. I have to agree that we are far from revolutionizing education. Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing as long as teachers keep in mind it’s how you teach that matters. Students remember the emotional impact of our teaching long after the content has faded. A philosophy of empowerment and a practice of giving students new tools for inquiry and self-expression will go a long way to firing up kids’ enthusiasm. As a K-8 teacher-librarian, ESL & FSL teacher, sometimes I want to do too many fun things, but then I remember. Kids’ learn better when there is an intrinsic ‘fun’ to learning, and a lot of that comes with novelty and doing cool new things.

    Thanks again for the inspiration.

  8. As a teaching artist, I like to quote Elliot Eisner and The Arts And The Creation Of Mind in my workshops. I think the quote suits your point George that teaching is an art and not a checklist too.

    “To be able to think about teaching as an artful undertaking, to conceive of learning as having aesthetic features, to regard the design of an educational environment as an artistic task – these ways of thinking about some of the commonplaces of education could have profound consequences for redesigning the practice of teaching and reconceiving the context in which teaching occurs.”

    The ‘art’ is contained in the aesthetic framework which calls on us to pay attention to relationships, to be flexible in our purposing, shaping form to create expressive content, to exercise the imagination and master the ability to transform qualities of experience into speech, text, shapes, movement and so much more. This is highly challenging to achieve but a joy to share!

    • Funny that you mention Elliot Esiner, Josey. I woke up this morning thinking about his work. Your quote is very appropriate and, instead of answering the question about “art” or “checklist”, it calls us into a deeper understanding of what we mean by both.

      If teaching is to be considered an art (and, I think that when we use that term, we’re asking people to understand the act of teaching as something more than meets the eye), then we have to be willing to ask some important questions about who the artist actually is, what materials the artist is working with, and what should be considered the “end” of the artistic process.

      All metaphors end up limping at some point, but this one is worth exploring until that happens.

      Are we saying that the teacher is an artist and the student is our “material”?

      I like your suggestion that the “art” is actually contained in the aesthetic framework. That comes closer to that sort of deep understanding.

      More and more, however, I’m thinking that when you look for the artist in the classroom, you have to look to that “space” that exists between teacher and student. The creative energy/tension that is contained in that space is, I believe, the space where the artistic spark forms.

      So, is it possible that the mystery of all this is that, while teaching may be an art, the teacher is not the actual artist? Instead, is it possible that there is a third dimension here—one that appears when that aesthetic framework opens up that imaginative, creative space.

      Hey, its early in the morning, and this conversation has me thinking. My apologies if this sounds overly wordy!

      • Wow, I thought George’s blog post alone was appetizing enough, but the comments really made me want to dig right in.

        Josey & Stephen, these are beautiful thoughts.
        I’m wondering if we, as artists, have a certain affinity to responsive teaching because we are already familiar with the creative process (I think George is a closet-artist).

        Stephen, I appreciate your thinking here: “Are we saying that the teacher is an artist and the student is our “material”?” ~ although I think the relationship between artist and material could be extended to include “process”. The process is the magic, the relationship, and is unfortunately elusive in its intangible qualities.

        Maybe this is part of the reason we are having such a difficult time defining the art of teaching: the elusive, intangible process?

        @ColleenKR

        • We could now begin talking about ‘blue guitars’ and the substantial wisdom of Maxine Greene. The irony is that, as theatre historian Bruce Mconachie shows, maybe neuroscience is now able to explain way the art, the mind and human cognition have developed synergistically,

  9. Andy MacLeod

    I too, reluctantly, see myself between the two groups. I’d love to take a leap of faith entirely into group 2 but know that Ministry constraints and measurable accountability prevent this. I often struggle with the concept that as K-12 we are dictated too by University/College requirements for entry. Isn’t it the truth that it all boils down to getting our K-12 students to the next destination, which in my role is University/College?

  10. It IS possible to have accountability and get rid of standardized tests. In the first place, the tests are meaningless because the whole premise on which they are based (the Bell Curve) is nonexistent in human beings. People insist on equating assessment with measurement…you can’t measure learning (except for memorization). But you can assess it. There are many forms of authentic assessment that have and are being used in learner-centered schools. What people need to get over is the belief that the only meaningful assessment is quantitative!

  11. Moira Bauer

    I too am somewhere in the middle. However, I think the how is more important than the what. Any content can be made boring or interesting. Along with the content learning we need to keep in mind the skills students are honing, why is the content important, or maybe it is irrelevant? How do we work within the constraints of curriculum and keep the content relevant? This is where teaching becomes art. Finally, is the fur trade irrelevant in Manitoba? The province we know today has strong ties to that history, especially when we look at the relationship of First Nations people with newcomers, a relationship that is still evolving. How do we make that relevant for our students? What skills do they need? Critical thinking for me is most important.

  12. I’m definitely in Camp 2, but I do believe it’s possible to have accountability without standards and standardized tests. It’s called Authentic Assessment. The difficulty will be in getting the “numbers guys” to accept qualitative assessment, such as performance assessment, portfolios, narratives…in other words, having each learner demonstrate what s/he has learned in some way. It’s not just a preference…the research is in! Please read Todd Rose’s book “The End of Average” to understand why public education is based on a concept that has no basis in reality!

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