Deborah Meier gets right to the point in her essay “Reinventing Schools That Keep Teachers in Teaching”:
If we want teachers who are smart, caring, alive to students’ needs, and are in it for the long haul, we need to consider how to create schools that are themselves centers for the continual learning of everyone connected to them. We’ve learned most of what we know about teaching K-12 from our own schooling experience. Unlearning powerful past history in the absence of equally powerful settings for relearning won’t work.
Amen. How do any of us expect change to occur in schools if we don’t create a culture around unlearning the old and relearning the art of teaching? And I’m not just talking here about change as it relates to technology; Meier, in fact, does not even mention the role that technology plays in that process. On a basic level, we have a lot to unlearn around the way we’ve dumbed down the whole process of schools in our rush to raise test scores and promote “high student achievement” that’s measured by numbers and not actual performance.
But on another level, we need to create places where technology is simply an invisible part of the unlearning and relearning process, where we are continually learning with our connected networks and communities outside our physical spaces as well as inside. This isn’t just about moving to a more child-centered, progressive model of education; it’s about doing that through a global, digital lens that frames those ideas for this moment.
Easy to say, I know. So how do we do this? How do we provide the time and the support for teachers to “unlearn powerful past history” and move themselves and their colleagues to this new and different place?
I actually had a conversation around that recently with Joel Backon, the Director of IT at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. And while there’s nothing inherently new about this idea, the way Joel framed it made a lot of sense. And it centers around this basic question: In a world where we have access to so much information and knowledge, where technology is providing more and more personalized learning environments for our students that are of quality and high engagement, do we really need to meet with our students five days a week, face to face, in physical space? In other words, could we work toward a model that allows students to work independently for let’s say one day a week, thus freeing teachers up to do the important work of unlearning and relearning either on their own or with their colleagues? Can a blended learning solution that takes advantage of all the Web affords perhaps make the Google “20% time” idea a possibility in schools?
I know this would require that every child have access. I also know that it would require some added time to plan those independent learning experiences for students. And I know some would struggle with the idea that their kids could actually learn on their own without them. There are hurdles.
But if we’re serious about giving teachers much needed time to learn, if we value it and Meier urges us to do, it’s “doable,” I think. Maybe not next week or next year, but as a part of a three-year plan? IF we value it. I love how Meier makes that case, too.
It’s doable. The details will vary from school to school, and some will fit one person and not another. But we cannot dare continue to keep kids in schools for so many, many years—incarcerated if you will—without doing a better job of making our schools places we all love. Places that we can’t wait to come to every morning and that we leave, exhausted and pleased with ourselves, every afternoon. Places where long-term experience and wisdom are not dismissed as the bad products of “seniority” rules, but what good societies take seriously. Schools are for the children, but they are also where the young build their images of adulthood. Our schools need to serve the students and the teachers.
So, how are your schools serving you as a learner? What other ideas do you have to make that happen?