Change be scary. It can be so scary because of the potential for extremes. A plan could be an extreme failure or an extreme success. Both realities can be equally scary. Education change is scary because it will require many of us to “let go”. This is concerning for some because they worry about students not learning in a non-traditional model while others are concerned because it is SO hard to let go and give up control. I can empathize with both camps and with those who lie somewhere in between.
We are a “wild west” period right now where change is scattershot and seemingly a moving target. Acceptable one day and repudiated the next. Some ideas seem to be enacted or considered simply for the sake of change rather than for the benefits of student learning; making change all the scarier. Change is worth the trouble if helps the kids. “Help” means many things to many people. I believe that “help” happens when we make changes or enact programs that empower students to take charge of their learning. Figuring out how to do this kind of change can be confounding.
I consider myself to be an “ideas guy” who is learning to get better on the operations side. I am a massive media consumer who pays attention to EVERYTHING which can lead to me paying attention to nothing! I crave frameworks and mental maps to help me coordinate ideas and make meaning. Those serendipitous moments when the right idea hits you at just the right moment are magic. At Connect 2013, I attended Chris Kennedy’s (@chrkennedy) session where he presented the three pillars that the West Vancouver School District is building programming around. Their focus is on 1) Inquiry 2) Self-Regulation and 3) Digital Access. EXACTLY the simplification that needed the focus our team at St. John. Empowering students to become life-long learners above all else is an identified priority but how do we operationalize such a broad concept? Thanks to Mr. Kennedy and WVSB, we have that foundation to put ideas into action.
Lightning struck again quickly when I came across Kiran Bir Sethi’s TEDed talk regarding student empowerment. Through the mantra of ”I can”, her Riverside school in India designed a program for students to blur the lines between school and the real world. Students were given the chance to enact real change through a Project Based Learning on steroids kind of program. The goal was to turn learning over to the students through a three part plan:
1) AWARENESS: see the change 2) ENABLE: be changed and 2) EMPOWER: lead the change. The end goal is to create a student body that is more competent and less scared. As Marianne Williamson so timelessly and beautifully stated “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond Measure….And as we let our own light shine, We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, Our presences automatically liberate other.” Empowering students to take charge of their learning, one student, one class or one school at a time has that ability to liberate others.
When our students start taking action because “they can” and not because “they are told”, good change has taken root.
Last summer my wife’s aunt and uncle visited us from Cape Town, South Africa. Her uncle wanted to visit all of the major Toronto landmarks. We took the red double-decker sightseeing bus all around the city. I saw parts of my own city that I had never really paid attention to before. Being a tourist in your own city can be a very enlightening experience.
Taking that tourist approach to your own education system can be equally enlightening. I found this video on Edutopia from the OECD Education Everywhere series about education in Ontario. The video focused on Unionville High School (part of the northern Toronto suburb of Markham ). Markham is an extremely diverse city with a very large Chinese and south Asian population.
The video paid specific attention to the role of the “Student Success” teacher and the larger Student Success team. The team meets weekly and focuses on coordinating supports for the transition of new Canadian students. The goal is to provide supports for the whole child and not only the academic side.
Additional information and perspectives can be found in this OECD document:
I just read a fascinating article in the June issue of WIRED magazine by Eric Steuer. Nicholas Negroponte (founder of the One Laptop Per Child project) in conjunction with Tufts University and the MIT Media Lab have launched a potentially groundbreaking research initiative focusing on the ability of children to learn without any schools, teachers or books.
The research team arranged for solar powered Tablets (courtesy of master designer Yves Behar) to be dropped off in an Ethiopian village without electricity and a literacy rate of 0%. The children in the test groups, aged 4 through 12, were given NO instruction in regards to even the basic workings of the Tablet. Negroponte shared the startling results:
- within 15 minutes the first child figured out how to turn it on
- within 3 more minutes ALL children had it turned on
- after a week 47 of the loaded apps had been used
- two weeks later the children were reciting the alphabet
The researchers hope to find out if this mastery of basic skills can lead to an intuitive development of critical reading comprehension skills.
The potential for this project is amazing. As tablet technology becomes more common place and thus cheaper, equity concerns in regards to Ed Tech start to evaporate. This study also shows the innate power of children to learn. This is further evidence that our job as educators is to facilitate and not dominate the education of our children.
Talk about the speed of innovation – Flipping the classroom, before the classroom even exists!
I came across an interesting article from Mind/Shift via Edutopia on Twitter. The article was written by two Finnish educators, Taina Rantala and Kaarina Määttä. It focused on the importance of learning being a joyful activity for students. A teacher-centered lesson might bring joy to the teacher but rarely does it do the same for the students! The teachers used an ethnographic research method and followed a cohort of students through grades 1 and 2. These educators observed that:
1) Joy was generated through choice. The authors stressed that the students should be given choice from within a set of objectives developed by the teacher. Far from an anarchy of student choice, the teachers set limits for the students to help guide their discovery.
2) Play based learning was highly engaging and joyful.
3) Self-discovery gave the students satisfaction as they came to master a concept through their own inquiry. The sense of ownership made them more passionate.
I found it fascinating that the results of this study of 6 and 7 years overlapped almost perfectly with the work of Daniel H. Pink shared in his book Drive:
Pink’s concludes through his research that monetary incentives don’t work when it comes to motivating people to succeed. People are motivated through:
1) AUTONOMY 2) ENGAGEMENT 3) MASTERY
Funny how it works, kids are little humans after all!
Finland has been getting tremendous amounts of positive publicity for the success of their education system. They have catapulted up the PISA rankings and based on aggregate scores, Finland is now ranked as the #1 education system in the world. At the TCDSB Student Success Conference, renowned education expert Andy Hargreaves compared the Finnish system to a Ferrari because it the nexus point of innovation and performance. Hargreaves compared Canada to a thoroughbred racehorse because of the tremendous focus on improvement at the expense of innovation.
What makes the Finnish system so great? The first video from the American Teachers Federation focuses on the following success indicators:
1) Teaching is a highly respected profession where all teachers are required to hold a Master’s degree. The opinions of teachers are taken into account when important decisions are made. Job embedded professional development and teacher collaboration are core to the development of all educators.
2) The relationship between teachers and administration is extremely close. There is a synergy between these two important roles.
3) The focus on the individual student in a priority. Differentiation is organic to the process.
The second video from the OECD via Edutopia takes a closer look at the focus on the individual child. Key points from this video include:
1) Early identification of students who are struggling. The goal is to deal with learning gaps early so that struggles do not compound. The special education resource teacher is engaged early in the process to observe students who are struggling.
2) There is not a stigma attached to special education support in Finland. Upwards of 90% of kids in the system have received support in some manner.
3) Every school in the system has a student welfare committee made up of school personnel who meet twice monthly. The goal is to regularly discuss the development of all children but especially those who have been flagged. Individual problems are dealt with on a case by case basis. These issues range from the emotional to academic level.
The Finnish system places a huge emphasis on people and not bureaucracy. Policy is of secondary concern to the welfare of students and educators. Surprise, surprise..putting people first actually works!
Edutopia in conjunction with the OECD created a series of videos highlighting the education reform movements of several countries. I will post each of the videos along with a brief summary. I found these videos to be EXTREMELY helpful. Finland has been getting most of the accolades when it comes progressive systems but Singapore deserves some love as well.
This snapshot of education in Singapore was enlightening on many levels but three things really stood out for me:
1) The focus on Student Engagement. The school leaders explicitly stated that “fun” was a priority.
2) There was an acknowledgement that technology was core to the being of the students. Rather than view it as a distraction, the teachers and administrators found ways to integrate into the curriculum.
3) Professional Development as a networked activity was HEAVILY emphasized. Technology allowed these teachers to create learning communities that extended FAR beyond the walls of the school.