I always get in this reflective mood at the end of the year. I mean, I tend to do a lot of reflecting throughout the year (especially on planes), but at this point when the pace finally slows down a bit, I get to thinking about what I’ve seen, what I’ve learned, and what it means, if anything. So much of this year has been a blur that it’s probably folly to try to capture it in some understandable way. But I’ve been trying to put some form to what’s changed, both in my own practice and in the larger conversation about schools.
My year can be summed up with less blogging, less online reading, more Tweeting, more PLP, more traveling. I’m feeling less connected to the online conversation, more connected to the on the ground conversation. I’ve met amazing people this year who have shared their successes and struggles, excitement and fears in profound ways. That coupled with our ongoing work with the 800 or so teachers in our PLP cohorts has really led me to a deeper understanding of how difficult these changes are and how ingrained traditional practice continues to be in schools. On balance, for me, it’s been a healthy, albeit difficult shift at times. It’s been a very good year.
But more on my mind for this space right now is what’s changed in terms of the larger conversation in 2009. And I mean changed, not just talked about. I’m in the midst of a great book by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson titled Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, and they spend about 20 pages writing about why the system is so resistant to change. The bottom line, they say, is that “teaching is an inevitably conservative practice.”
When embedded in institutions that protect instruction from systemic change, a conservative practice is reinforced by a conserving institution. It is difficult for teachers to implement substantially changed programs when they already have dedicated years adapting to what the traditional system of school offers (36).
They discuss three ways that schools deal with innovative technologies. First, they condemn them (see your local AUP), they co-opt them to support tried and true methods and curriculum, and, finally, they marginalize them, creating all of those “tinkering on the edges” initiatives to keep the reform minded happy. All of that resonates in the conversations I’ve had with folks this year. As much as people talk of change, the only stories that really get over the “transform” bar are what’s happening at my old school and from a superintendent in Iowa who told me he was in the process of “Napsterizing” education in his district. (I’m going to write more about both of those after the first of the year.)
So, as a way of taking stock, I’m asking, what’s changed?
I mean really changed in your school? What stories are there of moving wholesale to an inquiry-based curriculum, of real reinvention of assessments, of students participating in global learning networks, learning how to create their own personal networks around their own passions? Or even moving off of paper into a digital reading and writing space? Or moving from a teaching community to a learning community? Or other changes? My sense is that once again, there’s not all that much different today than a year ago.
Love to be proven wrong.