Blown hard against the rocks…

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this post for the last couple of days.  We had a school professional development day on Friday.  It was, I thought, a very good day and one that included some wonderful elements.  Even my presentation on web 2.0 went well, although I wish it would have been better attended, but it’s a difficult concept for some to wrap their heads around, and the way it was set up, everyone could really only make one choice.  Much of what interested me however, was what happened in our morning session where we were looking at what we need to do to tackle reform in education.  I am continually encouraged when it comes to the way we are approaching education reform in my world (understanding that there may be some rose-coloured glasses involved because it’s what I earnestly hope for).  First off we watched Sir Ken Robinson’s wonderful RSAnimate video on shifting education paradigms.  A video which, even though it’s been made available in plethora of locations I think it’s worth embedding here, again.

What heartened me was the general reaction of so many who saw the video that really Sir Ken brings forward some awesomely powerful arguments.  That so many really want to buy into what he has to say.  It reminded me of how much more powerfully change can be affected with the use of things like YouTube.  Sir Ken certainly brings vitality to the education ‘reform’ debate, and the web allows us to be affected by what he says much more immediately than we might have been in the past.  Certainly there is no need for schools or other institutions to go spend thousands (tens of thousands?) of dollars to be powerfully impacted by people like him.  I also noted that even our province’s website that is advocating a discussion in education reform has Sir Ken’s speech embedded in it.

Not everything is rosy however, I guess nothing ever is.  It was driven home for me again today when I read Dr. Scott McLeod’s Dangerously Irrelevant post from Thursday.  The points that Dr. McLeod enumerated for why we are not changing included this one comment about teachers who feel they cannot change:

believe they can’t because of “the tests” (a claim for which I’m skeptical for numerous reasons, not the least of which is that we already did low-level instruction with kids before “the tests”)

This point of view was of course in evidence although certainly with many variations of the theme.  So what to do?  Do we just keep going around and around in a circle chasing our tail or do we actually try and make a difference?

Ultimately I believe that Sir Ken argues that the structure criticized by Dr. McLeod is not necessarily our fault it has just happened over a period of time much longer than any of us have been alive.  That our system was originally designed for some very different purpose than what it is now being used for.  I am now convinced more than ever that we, the teachers, who are in the front line need to follow the pathfinders we already have in our midst and figure out how we can move in a direction of more engagement and a more diverse approach to education.

  • Will it be easy? – Not by a long shot.
  • Will it be messy? – Absolutely!
  • Do we have a choice? – I believe we do not!

We can try and wait for those in charge to lead us, but we could be waiting a long time.  Let’s not let these winds of reform get blown hard against the rocks like so many attempts before have been. With modern technology and people like Sir Ken Robinson advocating for change, we might just have a chance.

Just as long as no one mentions money (uggh).


Daniel Pink and the Science of Motivation

In my post from two weeks ago I talked a little bit about what would make a difference for teachers and their use of technology, after I was done I went back to one of my favourite TED talks, where Daniel Pink talks about the science of motivation.  I believe that what he has to say applies not only to us as the professionals, but also to our classrooms.

I keep on coming back to this because it makes me think about my classroom.  Am I not rewarding my students with simple rewards like grades in a very complex environment?  I cannot help but coming back with an affirmative answer.  Is this limiting what my students are willing to do to learn things, because they have been conditioned that it is only the mark that matters at the end?  This definitely dovetails with what Alfie Kohn was writing about on January 28th where he was discussing the brave educators who had eliminated grades from their schools or classes.  It seems to make sense that when people are faced with more complex ideas, and certainly learning in any manner beyond rote learning, is very complex, they are motivated to do better when the rewards are less tangible.

It also applies to us as professionals.  I have been doing a lot of reading recently about the plans among some jurisdictions in the United States to tie teacher’s evaluations with test results either to reward or punish them.  After watching Pink’s video one would have to wonder if this is the right approach.  I think that Pink’s assessment that for industrial style work, the kind of learning that we’ve been practicing in our schools for the better part of its existence it may indeed provide that push.  But, is that really what we want for our students?  I would argue that if we really want to better our students and ourselves over the long-term the use of standardized tests in this fashion is the last thing we should be doing.  Ultimately we need to do better in a lot of ways, but there has to be something better than this simplistic approach.