I’ve been growing more frustrated lately and I’m feeling more pessimistic about the prospects for any serious change in how we as an education system see teaching and learning, and I think I’ve figured out why. I hate to generalize, but the thing that seems to be missing from most of my conversations with classroom teachers and administrators is a willingness to even try to re-envision their own learning, not just their students. Many will say that they understand to varying degrees the changes that are occurring, that the Web is in many ways rewriting the rules of communication and socialization, that the world our students enter when they leave us will be much different from the ones we ourselves were prepared for. But it feels like there is this unspoken belief among most that we can deal with these changes without changing ourselves. And that’s is a huge problem.
Lots of teachers I talk to want blogs and podcasts and wikis. Without question, there are thousands of teachers, tens of thousands in fact, who are already using the tools with their students. I see new examples every day. But I’m still bothered by the fact that very, very rarely do I see new pedagogies to go along with them that prepare students for the creation of their own learning networks. That allow them to take some ownership (or at least envision the possibility of it) over their learning. That help them learn self-direction and get them to stop waiting for someone else to initiate the learning. And even rarer is to find one of those teachers exploring his or her own learning through the tools.
More than anything else, I think, teaching is modeling. As a writing teacher, I wrote with my students. As a journalism teacher, I wrote for publication with my students. As a literature teacher, I practiced and modeled reading for my students. Modeling is teaching, and never has that been made more apparent to me than when my own children act out and reflect my own bad behavior back to me. (It happens more than I like to admit.) My own kids, it has become clear, learn less when I talk, more when I do. And so it is with me.
We go back and forth in this community about whether teachers who use blogs should blog, or podcast or read RSS feeds. I’ve always hesitated to come down on one side or the other in that debate for a variety of reasons. But it’s become clear to me that the answer has to be yes. If you are an educator, I think you have little choice but to choose option 3 in the Marco Torres mantra: “You can complain, quit or innovate.” I know in many ways it stinks to have to be an educator at a moment in history when things are changing on a glacial scale. But what you signed up for is preparing kids for their futures. You have little choice but to deal.
Why won’t our kids be as well served if we don’t change ourselves? I mean we’re all products of the system, right? We all did ok. Things were changing when we went through school, right? Um, no. Not like this.
Our students will by and large have the ability to learn anything, anywhere, anytime (if they can’t already.) The level of their collaboration and connections with colleagues and peers in online environments will be of a type that is hard for most of us to imagine (myself included.) The information and knowledge that they will be awash in will require skills and literacies that most of us simply do not have. Their futures (and to some extent their “presents”) look very little like our vision of what it means to be educated. (And if you don’t believe that, spend some time reading “The Education Map of the Decade.”)
And so here is the friction: Recently, I had a teacher tell me that she spent about 10 minutes a day online and that frankly, that was quite enough. She said that she’s not going to sacrifice the other things that she already does in her life to spend more time on the Internet. I wanted to say, as Yochai Benkler says in the Wealth of Networks, you have the “greatest library in human history” at your fingertips. You have a billion potential teachers. You have an opportunity to learn in ways that you or I could not even have dreamed of when we were in school. And you have an opportunity to shepherd your students into a much more complex, much messier, and much more profound world of learning in ways that will help prepare them more powerfully for the world they face.
Many of our kids are already doing this without us. Many of them have much more of a clue of what it means to learn using these tools than we do. Imagine if we could teach them to leverage their connections even more powerfully, if we could show them how powerful they are in our own learning. That we are not just engaged teachers but engaged learners. That we’re not afraid of what’s ahead because we know how to learn.
Surely, that’s worth more than 10 minutes a day.
But the litany of reasons why this can’t happen are on the tips of too many tongues. Today, in our parent conferences, I asked my daughter’s teacher if there were opportunities for her class to work on extended projects, projects that in the end would have a purpose beyond the grade and the classroom. Projects that, to quote Marco again, would “have wings.” The response I got was this: with all of the objectives that must be met for the state tests coming up in the spring, there just isn’t time for it. When I asked my son’s teacher whether she had read his blog, her answer was that blogs were blocked at school and so, no, she hadn’t.
And so I am frustrated, and I am wondering what will it take to make our classrooms places of learning rather than places of teaching. And I’m wondering if teaching really is dead. And I’m wondering, like the survey question from a few days ago, what classrooms might look like 10 years from now, if they will be fundamentally different from what they are today.
My guess right now is not much.