What are you not teaching?

learningandtimeAs we work to reimagine our classrooms, I found this short video full of interesting questions from Reid Wilson:

  • What won’t we be teaching 10, 20, 30 years from now?
  • What don’t our students need to know to become successful global citizens?
  • What’s now dead in education? What do we take out? What gets cut?

Several good quotes:

  • Trying to cram everything into a limited amount of time is like trying to cram a bunch of seeds into a tiny garden. If too many seeds are spread throughout a limited area, they’ll be no space for anything to grow. If we give no space for seeds to grow they’ll suffocate themselves in competition for their limited resources. Learning and time are like this.
  • It’s time we start these conversations in our own schools around what gets taken out so we can make room for the how and the why.
  • Shying away from the questions and conversations will only lead to education’s inevitable suffocation. Take back your cup, and only fill it when something has been taken out. Stand up and ask What don’t we teach? What won’t we teach? What gets cut?

Are our students expected to meet too many standards? Who is having conversations around the important questions posed in this talk? Are these questions part of the conversation to transform education?

Transform, not reform – A transformational vision for education in the US

1This past September, the non-profit Convergence released A transformational vision for education in the US, the outcome of Education Reimagined, an initiative of Convergence dedicated to the realization of learner-centered education in the US.  Founded in 2009, Convergence has an interesting mission: to convene people with conflicting views to identify solutions for action around national issues. Other projects include economic mobility and poverty, long-term care, and nutrition and wellness. The hope of the education vision signatories is to fuel the national debate around transforming education.

After a careful reading of the document, I think the ideas contained therein can be a  basis for powerful conversations about transforming – not simply reforming – the education system in America. Time will tell, if word spreads and more stakeholders become engaged in the conversation, whether the work of this diverse group actually helps propel the conversation in the direction many of us practitioners believe it needs to go.

I appreciated a number of statements shared early in the document. To some, these may seem obvious and descriptive of current beliefs and values; to others, they may even be controversial:

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The group’s vision for education is decidedly learner-centered, a paradigm shift from the current industrial-age model where too many decisions are made to satisfy the system instead of the end-user: “…learners are active participant in their learning as they gradually become owners of it, and learning itself is seen as an engaging and exciting process.” At one point, the vision is encapsulated in several sentences:

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In an implementation of such a learner-centered vision (of which there are no known schools or districts fully implementing it but numerous implementing various components), all learning experiences facilitate the development of three domains: knowledge, skills and dispositions. While we’ve heard of these before, and we might even say that, as educators, we work to develop these now, the current system, with its draconian accountability system, focuses too much on the acquisition of knowledge at the expense of developing skills and dispositions. The domains are described as interdependent and equally important.

The vision is given more substance with brief descriptions of five “elements” that comprise the “design for learning:”

  • competency-based learning
  • personalized, relevant and contextualized learning
  • learner agency
  • socially embedded learning
  • open-walled learning

These design elements are not presented as a prescription nor blueprint. Language in the document suggests the need for there to be experimentation in implementation, clarifying the ways the elements work together and reinforce one another to create learning experiences reflective of the vision. While the elements are described as a “North Star” to guide innovation, I wondered why these five. Where did they come from? Are there any I’d add to the list?

The document concludes with a list of core system components that need to be considered as schools and districts move toward the learner-centered paradigm of education:

  • agreed domains and standards for knowledge, skills, and dispositions
  • adults in the system and shifting roles
  • technology
  • assessments
  • use of data
  • re-imagined spaces for learning
  • the role of a coordinated network of institutions, organizations, agencies, associations and federations, and businesses
  • resource allocation

Think about the complexities of transforming these elements, not just tinkering with them like we have been use to. Making the transformation of these elements even more challenging is the need to rethink other systems such as funding, governance and accountability.

While I finished the document with a sense of hope, I also realized how complex the current system is to change. Is our public education system so tightly intertwined with other systems that any change can only be seen as a dream? It’s because of this complexity that there can be no one-size-fits-all solution to transformation. There will be some people that say the document is short on specifics and long on visionary mumbo jumbo. If we are interested in changing the system, in any way, we have to resist this thinking which is driven only by the need for quick, easy solutions. Transformation will take hard work to navigate its many, many complexities. This document provides an entry into the much-needed conversation.

Does the current education system (with its deeply entrenched systems such as pedagogy, funding, governance and accountability) have the wherewithal to become truly learner-centered, to be transformed? Do we have a choice? If leadership is a key piece in any transformation, do our school leaders have the necessary knowledge, skills and dispositions to drive the transformation? How would a school or district begin moving toward a learner-centered system? What’s your blueprint?

 

4 steps to deeper conversation

depthconversationLast month I shared a post on the lack of deep conversation, primarily on social media – mindlessly retweeting content and reading blog posts without connecting to the writer or ideas. At the time, I shared the hunch that a lot of surface level conversation is driven by a lack of focus, but I didn’t offer any suggestions on how we can get beyond the surface and dive deeper. After some thought and action, here are four steps to get beyond the surface conversation – both online and offline.

  1. Find a focus – Be a reflective practitioner. Think about your practice and identify the gaps, things you’d like to improve upon and learn. In my practice, we are focused on creating our vision for teaching and learning. One of the steps I’ve recently taken that has helped me get focused is to clean out the list of people I follow on Twitter. I was finding that there was far more distraction in my timeline than I needed. Spending 10 minutes scanning my timeline would frequently lead to nothing more than a waste of 10 minutes. I also tweaked my lists to more easily filter the people and organizations I want to connect with.
  2. Find a collaborator or two  – To engage in a conversation, you have to find people to talk with – be it face-to-face or online. My colleague, Lynn Fuini-Hetten, and I published a podcast on this topic earlier this year. When you find a collaborator, you find someone to help you problem-solve and provide you with feedback. You find someone to take the conversation deeper. While most of my conversations around a vision for teaching and learning have been with my two work colleagues, Lynn and Ross Cooper, more of our work will be moving online as we begin making connections and engaging with the thought leaders in the field. More to come on this exciting work!
  3. Take an inquiry stance – I’m all about questions. I end each blog post with a question because I want to prompt some inquiry in readers. I find that I am on a never-ending quest to find the right question and am always problematizing practice. It’s not easy. It can often be humbling. But it is important that we as practitioners take this inquiry stance if we are ever to change. While the first two steps – find a focus and find a collaborator – are important and cannot be bypassed, conversations take on a depth and substance when we approach them with an inquiry stance. Some people find questions threatening because questions mean there is something we don’t know, something that might be better. The fact is when we take an inquiry stance there will always be more questions, even when we think we’ve found a solution, when we’ve “arrived.” Those of us comfortable with inquiry embrace a growth mindset and therefore open the door for endless possibilities for deeper conversations.
  4. Embrace the growth mindset – During the inquiry process – where the deep conversations happen – we bump up against new ideas and thinking we didn’t know existed. It’s important for us to understand why we are connecting and having conversation — because we want to make something about our practice better. We don’t have the answers. But we are open to discovering answers by engaging in the inquiry process and deep conversations with those who might have pieces of the solution.  During these conversations, we may get push-back from our collaborators on our ideas. That’s OK, if we approach the conversation with a growth mindset. What we thought was “right” or the “best idea” might now seem not-so-great when we synthesize your thinking with new learning. Anything but a growth mindset shuts down any possibility for deeper conversation.

I will admit – deeper conversations happen easier offline than online for me. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it has to do a lot with #3 — take an inquiry stance. I think inquiry is the behavior that takes us from the surface to deeper levels of engagement. While I don’t have the answer, I know I’m open to listening and learning what you have to say.

What if we took an inquiry stance in our online life? Would we have deeper conversations? What if we were more aware of our mindset as we engage with others online? Are we engaging with those that might challenge our thinking and compel us to grow? Are we open to this?