There has been a lot of talk on the idea that education as a whole takes a long time to change. As an educator, this is a challenging notion, since we are seeing many people doing some amazing things that did not exist when I was a student. Change is happening but sometimes it is hard to see when you are in the middle of the process.
Some things are out of the hands of schools. Budgets and government decisions can make creating new and better learning environments for students tough, but not impossible. Educators are not powerless, and in some cases, more powerful that ever. The story of education can not only be told from the perspective of educators, but also from the students that are currently in the system. Although there is still a lot of work to do (as there always will be in organizations that focus on continuous learning and have an emphasis on becoming “innovative”), there are also opportunities in education, now more than ever, that we will need to take advantage of and create a different path.
Here are some of the challenges we have had in the past and how we can tackle them
1. Isolation is the enemy of innovation.
Education has traditionally been an isolating profession where we get some time together, but not nearly enough. Even if we wanted to change this significantly, in most cases, the current physical structures do not allow us to work with other educators. Some administrators have been very innovative in their planning of teacher prep time and have embedded collaboration time into the regular school day, but it is not necessarily enough to make a significant impact.
How so many educators have shifted this “norm” is by using social media spaces to connect and learn from educators all over the world, and making a significant difference in their own classrooms, and creating much more engaging and empowering learning spaces. Isolation is now a choice educators make. Where the shift really has to happen is using things like Twitter is for educators to connect and share learning that is happening with educators in their own school. I challenged people to do the following (as shared in this visual from Meredith Johnson);
We need to make this happen and create transparency in our own classrooms.
How does a song like “Gangnam Style” go so viral that most people around the world not only know the words but the dance moves? Social media. If a song can spread so quickly, so can great learning.
Make it go viral.
2. A continuous focus on what is wrong, as opposed to what is right.
Think about the traditional practice of what school has done with many of our students. If they struggle with the subject of math, we often send the more math homework to do at home. Does this really make sense? If they are struggling at school, making them struggle at home with the same content is often counterintuitive. It is not that we shouldn’t struggle, but it is important that we are very thoughtful of how we spend our energy.
The shift that has happened with not only our students, but also our schools, is focusing upon building upon strengths as opposed to focusing solely on weaknesses. This is imperative as building upon strengths often helps us to not only build competence, but also confidence which leads us to the mindset that we are more open to tackle our other challenges along the way.
Leadership is a privilege, not a right, and we need to treat it as such. Leadership means encouraging people to live up to their fullest potential and find the path they love. That, and only that, will create a strong culture and sustainable levels of innovation.
Many organizations outside of education are hiring not on need, but finding the best people and empowering them based upon their strengths. Schools should try to do their best to follow suit and put people to be in the best situations to not only do well, but to lead.
3. Experience is a very powerful teacher.
I remember sitting and listening to Bruce Dixon at a conference and something he said has always stuck out to me:
In no other profession in the world do you sit and watch someone else do your job for 16 years before you go and do it yourself.
Wow. That is a powerful message and shows why so many new teachers aren’t coming into school with all of these “innovative ideas” and changing our school system like so many people predicted. Many educators simply replicate their experience as a student. If you think about it, at least one-third of many teachers educational experience is as a student, not a teacher. That is a tough thing to overcome, but not impossible.
Innovation has no age barrier, and if we can tweak the experience for educators in their professional learning, they are more likely to change the experience for their students. Writing ideas about “21st century classrooms” on gigantic pieces of paper with a felt marker is not going to create cultural shifts; changing experiences will.
People are starting to look differently at professional learning, and create experiences that are much different from what I first experienced as a teacher. I think a major reason for this shift (going back to point 1) is that educators are seeing the shift in practices in so many other organizations, and are trying to create a different practice where more educators are not really focused on teaching as much as they are about learning. This empathy is crucial since to become a master teacher, you must become a master learner.
Changing experiences to shift the focus on the learner from the teacher helps to disrupt routine. If you would want to create an environment where students would want to be a part of your classroom, we have to experience what learning could look like for ourselves and start from a point of empathy.
One shift that was not mentioned was the mindset of looking at obstacles as opportunities. As mentioned earlier, not everything is in our control, but as educators know, they can make an impact every single day. It is not always easy, and teaching can be a very daunting and tiring job, but I believe that every day we can make a difference if we choose. Having that mindset is the only way that we will ever truly be able to make a powerful change for ourselves and our students.