Saturday, 28 July 2012

Tear down these walls.

Learning is not something that is ‘done’ to a student by a teacher. Learning only happens when a student chooses to engage with what is being taught. But, obviously learning can also happen without a teacher. Regardless of how old we are, whether we ‘succeeded’ in school or not, learning is what humans do. As long as we live, learning is a choice.

Traditional schooling was (is?) about a teacher imparting knowledge perceived to be useful to a group of students. This happened in an enclosed space, for a fixed time and with no outside influence or interference for the duration of the ‘lesson’. Exams, assignments and essays were, and often still are, done alone.

In the industrial society where these students left school and entered factories, this was good preparation for their lives as adult workers – performing repetitive tasks, probably alone, in an enclosed space and under supervision and with little or no outside interference.

So does traditional schooling as described still have relevance today? In today’s business world employees are expected to work in groups and teams, communicate ideas and information, share good practice and continually learn new skills in a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment. They are constantly connected – by computer, messaging systems, email and phone – sometimes 24/7. It is not necessarily the ‘what’ of what we are learning that has changed. It is the ‘how’, ‘where’ and ‘when’.

So why do some classrooms still have the look and feel of traditional schooling? Surely to prepare for their adult lives students at school should be encouraged to connect, work in teams, be creative, and share what they learn. And in a connected world where teachers are not the only, or even the best, source of information, why are students required to turn off phones, disconnect from the internet and all others and take assessments and examinations alone and cut off from all sources of information. Precisely how is this the best preparation for adult life and what are the results of assessments and examinations meant to tell us?

Businesses are not getting enough of the creative, independent, collaborative employees they need. You’d think that this would mean industry pressure would be put on governments to transform formal education; but far from it. Businesses still interview and hire graduate candidates based on performance in standardized tests; tests that show the candidate has a host of skills the business is not looking for!

Of course, there are schools making strong progress in the transformation of education, and there are businesses that select ‘maverick’ candidates based on criteria other than examination results because they have mastered the ‘where’, ‘when' and ‘how’ of learning. But if we are ever going to transform the whole system, business, government, educators and parents all have to agree to engage with the process of change. We need to take away the closed door classroom – tear down the walls even. We need open-network classrooms, not silenced phones. Students need to discover, not absorb. Teachers needs to become filters of knowledge rather than the sum of all knowledge.

The system right now encourages students to become the kind of people that it takes to succeed at standardised tests – compliant, obedient, secretive and able to work in isolation. We are testing the wrong things!

Put your hand up if you are willing to be the one that tells the current generation that we’ve been teaching them the wrong way and testing them on all the wrong stuff. Tear down the classroom walls and rethink how, where, when and why students learn best.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Realising Change

In a previous post Managing Change I wrote about two ways that change can be affected – forced change (F-Change) and nurtured change (N-Change).  The role of management for each of these is vastly different.  For anyone seeking to instigate change the polar opposite approaches might be:



insist on perfection
to staff opinion and objections and follow up
from the front, because no-one else has the required vision
resources, feedback and follow-up in time
decide who is capable and who does what by when
to key meetings and show willing to engage with staff
assert your authority to make change
for yourself
the way things are done
learning, ideas, creativity and improvement from and by all
apportion tasks on a need to know basis
decision making by assigning responsibility with accountability
all fears and misgivings that staff may have
be humble and avoid arrogance
assign accountability to key staff
opportunities and chances for staff to shine
your will on all to achieve the desired outcome
ideas and suggestions across teams, departments and groups

As in anything, there is more than one way to skin a cat, but in my experience leaning towards one of these extremes rather than the other leads to innovation, staff satisfaction and lasting change. 

“All great changes are preceded by chaos.” - Deepak Chopra

Monday, 2 July 2012

Fear of Change in Education

A quick search on Google Images can throw light on how technology has changed our lives. (@abdulchohan, Festival of Education 2012).  Try this for yourself – search for Google Images for 19th century surgery and 21st century surgery.  In typical images of 19th century surgery you will see men in suits operating on a patient lying on what looks like the kitchen table.  In the 21st century image you will see surgeons in a clean environment surrounded by technology.  Try the same for printing, or banking to see the impact technology has had on our lives.

But when the same search is done for education, there is a difference.  Pictures of 19th century schoolrooms – of children sat at desks in rows facing the teacher – are not so dissimilar to some 21st century pictures.  There are exceptions, but it is clear that technology has not yet made an impact on all classrooms. 

In recent years the rise of the ebook and the ebook reader has been rapid.  @aydinstone points out in ‘Touching makes you feel different’ that just as the car didn’t replace the bicycle and television didn’t replace radio, then ebook readers will not replace physical books.  They will exist alongside each other, appealing to a different audience.

The shift in schools to ebooks or other digital resources has so far been slow.  Typically teachers still assign print textbooks for their courses despite the investment in digital and interactive textbooks by both traditional schoolbook publishers and new market entrants and the ever-expanding teacher generated shared resources to be found online.  Why is this?  @coolcatteacher  blogs that even schools that have computers aren’t necessarily using them for anything constructive or relevant.  What is it that makes the take-up of digital resources so slow?  Teachers are time-poor, sometimes complain of a lack of professional development around technology and some seem threatened by students that may be more technologically adept than they are.

But the fact is that none of us would be willing to go under the surgeon’s knife knowing that those operating would not be using the available technology, nor would we accept a bank with no ATMs and no instant online transactions.  Our children deserve the best opportunities that they can get from their education.  This means teachers, principals, governments and businesses taking responsibility for ensuring that technology is used effectively to enhance and improve schooling.  If professional development is the answer then let’s make it happen!  This does not mean that every lesson in every school needs to be taught online or from a digital resource.  Some journeys are still best undertaken on a bicycle!  But it does mean using the most appropriate resources for the job at hand.

Fear of change is not an excuse.

'He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.'   Harold Wilson