We had an interesting conversation at dinner last night revolving around the changes that are occurring in classrooms these days. Since we’re in the middle of our Tablet PC pilot at our school right now, I know this is especially acute as I’ve seen some pretty remarkable things this first week with teachers and students. But last night we were talking about the access to information that many (but not all) students and teachers have via the Web. And we were talking about how few educators had made the Internet a significant part of their practice. If we’re entering a world where much of what we do in business, communication, politics, etc. will be done online, we have to prepare our students for that reality. And the most effective way to teach these skills is to master them ourselves.
Case in point: I was talking with a math teacher who is a part of our pilot, and he told me that in the course of his lesson on Monday he used a term that was unfamiliar to his students. Rather than simply give them a definition, he modeled his own practice by having his students watch as he went from the OneNote page he was projecting via his tablet, opened up a browser, surfed over to Wikipedia, looked up the definition, and started a discussion about not only the math but about the workings of the site. Now I would bet that only a handful of teachers would model that same process.
And why is that? I’m back to that again, I know. The Web and these technologies have transformed the way I learn, provided me with many teachers who push my thinking, given me the potential to direct my own education as it is. Why don’t more educators make it a part of their own practice?
What I realized more clearly last night is that for many teachers, the idea of teaching kids to be able to access information and find mentors and communities of practice basically means teaching themselves out of their jobs, at least as they know it. I mean, at some point, we’re going to have to let go of the idea that we are the most knowledgable content experts available to our students. We used to be, when really all our students had access to was the textbook and the teacher’s brain. But today, we’re not. Not by a long stretch. And we don’t need to be. What we need to be is connectors who can teach our kids how to connect to information and to sources, how to use that information effectively, and how to manage and build upon the learning that comes with it. That’s a much different role than “science teacher” or “math teacher.” Now I’m not saying that subject matter expertise is irrelevant and that there aren’t core concepts that discipline specific teachers shouldn’t teach. But they should be taught it a much wider context, not in the fishbowl this is our traditional classroom.
This is a scary idea, I think. But it takes me back to something I wrote a couple of days ago that was almost a throw away line at the time but one that got me thinking much more deeply about all of this stuff:
The best teachers are the ones we find, not the ones we’re given.
There’s much more to write about that…