Beyond Better

The concept of “improvement” is an interesting one. It’s one of those words that gets thrown around when we talk about “school improvement,” “improving test scores” and the like, but it’s also a word that can carry many hidden meanings.

Improving test scores inevitably means higher scores, but it can also be used in reference to “closing the gap” between highest and lowest performers, while school improvement is really a generic that seems to cover all manner of ills, from radical transformation to a new coat of paint.

It’s not that improvement isn’t a good thing, but it is one of those phrases that can too often mean anything to everyone. Under the umbrella of school improvement, currently one of the major areas of focus across many school systems is the challenge of variability, not so much between schools, but rather within, from one teacher to the next, and the evidence on the impact that has on student’s learning is very significant.

So it’s no wonder that we are seeing more and more workshops focusing on the essential sub-skills of teaching, and the factors that have the most influence on students learning experiences. Hattie and his Top Ten are very much in vogue, with particular emphasis on questioning techniques, feedback and formative assessment which along with PLC’s probably make up a large percentage of the in-service work that is currently popular.

All this must be a good thing, although I am often surprised by the pedagogical naivety shown in some of these workshops, and am continually asking myself, what on earth is now being focused on in our undergraduate teacher preparation courses? For many I realise education specialities may have been post-graduate which is becoming more the case, however somewhere between the lectures and the practicums too often there seems to be a fair bit missing.

However, such concerns at times seem minor when I step back and think of where this is heading. We know we should be  continually improving the learning experiences of our young people, we know we have to provide ongoing professional support for teachers if they are to be better in that task..but, is that enough?

What we are saying is that the challenges we face in our schools today will be best addressed if we can only do a ‘better’ job, that is improve our existing practices.  Getting better is most commendable, but aren’t today’s schools facing an even bigger challenge? Isn’t there something happening in the world outside our schools that suggests that we should be looking beyond better?

While the current focus of the majority of our professional learning programs is about refining and improving existing practice, one can’t help but think that additionally, maybe we should be looking for new models, new ideas and new practices that better reflect the way our young modern learners are learning today.

This is not to in any way belittling the obvious benefit that our students get from teachers improving traditional practice, but unfortunately I would suggest that maybe it is no longer enough.

Our focus now must be on discovery. It must be about the profession taking risks and exploring new ideas to engage our modern learners in ways that leverage the digitally-rich world they inhabit.  This is also about opportunity. It’s about opportunities for our best teachers to let go, to move out of their comfort zone and explore new ideas, new pedagogies that allow their students to go far beyond what they might have thought possible before. This isn’t about more of the same, done better, but rather it demands deep intellectual engagement across the profession to discover just what is now possible.

What is possible today could never have been imagined before, maybe its time we were much bolder and broadened the focus of our in-service and pre-service programs so they we can start to seriously unravel those possibilities.

Image credit: Kainet

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