One Small Step…in Time

For all that we have written about the shifts we are startingshifting-conversations-logo to see in our schools, there are an increasing number of questions that need to be answered. Where do we start and what is the path or roadmap going to look like?

There is plenty of discussion currently around ‘deep learning’, so is that the best place to start? There’s a wagon full of ideas around new/iterative/innovative pedagogies, so is that the best place? ..and there’s a paddock full of thinking around school design and design thinking, so maybe that’s where you should begin?

The answer of course is that there is no one answer. If we are serious about creating the ‘optimal learning environment for children*’ in the context of this rapidly changing world they are growing up in, then it has to be a collective and collaborative shift that is sustainable over the longer term through leadership and personnel changes.

However, what we are starting to better understand are some of the key pivot points within the functions of schools that should be the focus.

The first of these around shared beliefs about how our students learn best, is too often overlooked, or at best taken for granted, and when extended to how they learn in the context of a digitally-rich environment the professional conversations that follow are usually both enlightening and insightful.

This is then necessarily followed by an even wider ranging dialogue around the alignment of those beliefs with existing pedagogy and practice all of which ultimately challenges what my colleague Wayne Craig describes as the ‘professional isolation of teachers’ and the reassurance they get from their ‘circles of competence’.

However this is the point where I believe we lose many of our most promising initiatives..and school leaders….rather they get lost. If we want to talk about new pedagogies and deprivatizing practice, then it is at exactly this point that the conversation needs to broaden again and explore the limitations imposed by the learning architecture– the total of all of those components that collectively are designed to enable learning within our schools.

How can we expect teachers to innovate and create new and exciting learning experiences for their students if they are expected to do so within the constraints of traditional or legacy learning architecture? How we group our students, how we organise students and teachers to work together, and the schedule we hold onto so dearly, just to name a few. It’s at this point that we need to create a different lens through which we can truly focus on the possibilities for our schools—a lens that allows us to unpack the various components of schooling so we can structure more diverse, more challenging, and more relevant learning experiences for our modern learners.

While it’s is certainly not my intent to address all those possibilities in detail at this time, that is for another column or in fact a workshop series next year, I would draw attention to one elegantly simple example to illustrate my point.

In recent weeks I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mike Klein, who is now with Bright Bytes, but formerly taught at High Tech High in San Diego. There are many interesting aspects to High Tech, some of which we have discussed previously, but one simple shift they made was in their use of time.

Time is that four-letter word that is so often thrown up by educators when we talk about any shift in practice, but at High Tech founding principal Larry Rosenstock realised if he wanted a more collaborative  project-based pedagogy across the school in line with their beliefs about learning, then he would have to make time for his teachers to work together. He also knew that after school, at the end of a long day is never a good time, so he rescheduled his school day …and school year to provide his teachers with time to meet in teams for at least one hour for planning and staff development every day before school. This they do in different grouping each day; some by teaching teams, some by projects, sometimes by cross-faculty, but by this one simple pivot around how time is used Larry was able to provide his teachers with the professional freedom to explore new pedagogies and confidence to rethink their practice.

Most interestingly this also meant reducing face-to-face time with students but despite that it has been a shift that has paid off many times over.  Of course this has only been one of many initiatives at the school, and for more details I would recommend subscribing to the newsletter, Unboxed which is produced regularly by their Graduate School of Education.

In the meantime, if you’ll excuse my indulgence, you’ll find I’ve tackled more of the ideas raised in this column in detail in my new book, The End of School As We Know It, which has just been released through Solution Tree. I’m flattered to hear it has already been made required reading for leaders at a recent Global Leaders event in Auckland, and as a ‘loyal subscriber’ I would very much value your feedback and comments. As with all of our work, I hope it becomes a resource that supports your focus on the experiences of our young modern learners in your school.

*Those interested in historical education icons will know these were the words of Lucy Sprague Mitchell when she first established the Bureau of Educational Experiments (BEE) in 1916…which ultimately became Bank Street College of Education. Let’s hope the shift we are now seeing does not take another 100 years to have impact.

Image Credit: Rodger Evans

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