Toward More Ambitious Practice in Schools

shifting-conversations-logoHow many times have you heard the chant, “pedagogy first, technology second?” I could not count the times it has been spoken about in vigorous terms in workshops that I have run in countries across the globe, yet I truly lament the reality we too often find in our schools.

Recently I visited a school where students have had ubiquitous technology access through a 1 to 1 initiative for more than twenty years, and I was disturbed by how little shift there had been in classroom practice. It’s one thing to say that “these things take time”…it’s another thing to take twenty years.

To be fair, I know this is not an exception, and while there are few schools that have provided their students with what we might call a modern ‘technological’ learning environment for quite that period of time, nonetheless the evolution of appropriate pedagogy is too often severely lagging in our schools.

While this would not surprise many, it is nonetheless something that demands leader’s attention if we are to ever fully realise the potential technology-richness offers our students. Not that there are any easy answers because this is, by definition, uncharted territory. But surely after twenty years someone should be asking some pretty tough questions.

At what point do we decide that our current practice can be improved? At what point do we set up processes and support mechanisms to provoke bolder classroom practice that seeks to more truly leverage the digitally-rich learning environment we have created for our students?

blueIn some schools I have seen this addressed under a research banner, where every teacher undertakes a deliberate action research project over a semester or school year. Such a strategy has the benefit of building a more coherent school-wide philosophy around how young people learn today, while  adding a subtle yet effective accountability to ensuring there is evidence of a shift in practice.

This is not, of course, about discarding the past, or completely re-inventing our future, but rather critically reviewing the assumptions that we have made about what constitutes best practice. This is a time for challenging our own beliefs about learning, and being very deliberate about how we articulate what that looks like in a digitally-rich space.

Do we really believe that in such a space our modern learners go about their learning as they did 20, or even 10 years before? Do we really believe that those learners are not using every manner of new and emerging technology to grant them privilege and access to whatever information or learning networks they need?

The art and science of teaching and learning has changed forever; it must change forever. But how, we are yet to discover. That is the exciting part of being teacher in 2015. It is not that we for one moment are throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or believe that all current practice is irrelevant. That would be both naïve and absurd.

But what we do need to do is help our teachers be liberated from many of barriers and constraints they perceive are holding them back from more ambitious practice; from taking risks, from trying new innovative ideas that seek to leverage the digitally-rich environment that we have invested more than twenty years creating.

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