I’ve been thinking a lot about educational change.
It seems that when we look at the past one hundred years, there has always been a cry for change in the educational system: a movement beyond the rote learning; getting student actively engaged; personalizing their learning; creating social learning spaces. These calls for educational reform had been coming from post-secondary educational institutions. In some cases, they were successful in implementing, even for a short time, an innovative system, programme or class structure. However, it seems, that these changes are short lived, isolated in pockets of innovation, or are replaced by the next, best, newest thing.
In the late 20th century, universities were the ones calling for a change in the system of education, suggesting different theoretical and pedagogical concepts to improve student understanding and learning (think Vigotsky’s constructivist theory that became more popular in the late nineties, or Dewey’s educational philosophies that seemed to remain in place into the eighties and nineties).
Somewhere along the line, these positive changes reverted back to traditional modes of education (class structures, activities, school environment, assessment and reporting). The students were given a lesson, practiced the lesson, were tested on the lesson and given a grade that remained, or was averaged, for a final mark in the course, which was then written on a permanent record for parents, post-secondary institutions to evaluate, judge and rank. Any changes that were lasting, were embedded in the societal concepts of what education meant: Grandparents learnt a certain way, parents learnt a certain way, so the present students should also be taught that way. School was a known entity: lesson, practice, test, repeat.
If the changes moved too far to the innovative, society complained that the education system did not have enough rigor (horrible term, in my opinion, let’s talk about vigor, instead). If the changes moved too far to the strict, rote learning, teachers and parents would complain that their children were losing their creativity and spark. The system was set up (intentionally or not) to make sure that any and all changes would be diluted to the point where the changes became semantic versions of 150 words for snow. They described the same actions, activities, pedagogy, but in the different terms. Everyone could look to the system and say that changes were happening, but no one was happy (except, perhaps, the educational industries that made millions with each ‘new’ change).
Now, in the age of the connected educator, the calls for change are coming loudest from the teachers themselves. Small pockets of educators connected through Twitter, Google +, Facebook and other social media and have started discussing their practices in a way that has never happened before. They are discussing their practice in terms of practical means: what happened in a lesson when I tried to differentiate/use technology/student blog/assess differently. They encourage each other to experiment in the classroom, connect their students, use technology to enhance the learning (not supplement it). And amazing things are happening: teachers connected and shared, giving others ideas for changing their practice. However, we still educate within the same institutional system that holds fast to its history.
This worries me, as new teachers, connecting with others around the world, are trying to integrate technology, assess with standards based grading, differentiate lessons, personalise their curriculum. I worry that a frustration will come about and a new exodus of teachers from our profession. These positions might easily be replaced by those that are comfortable with the status quo, reinforcing the homeostasis of our education system.
Perhaps it is time to celebrate those brave, innovative teachers that are trying to pull our educational system out of the 19th century and into the 21st century. The big question for me, however, is how do we do this?