Who are you working for?

Promesse de l'avenirI’ve had this idea in my head for a few weeks now. I was talking to a teacher in our school about a really cool project she was running with her class. She was worried that taking 5 or 6 days out of the semester was too much. She was worried that she wouldn’t be able to cover everything. I told her not to think of it that way, as she was replacing some other activities with something far richer and deeper. She still was having trouble thinking of it that way. She said that there are ‘certain things that they need to know for the next level.’

So it got me thinking, who was she talking about? Was she thinking that she had to provide the kids with some specific knowledge or skills that they absolutely needed, or was she thinking about the next course they may take and that if the students seemed to be lacking in something it would reflect upon her as a teacher in the eyes of another teacher?

Then I got thinking about the all-too-common phases that teachers use to ‘motivate’ kids. “You’ll never be able to get away with that in (fill in some upcoming level above current level here).” Or the oft uttered “Why didn’t they teach them this in (fill in some prior grade here).”

Then it struck me. Who do we work for?

Are we working for the kids in front of us, or for the imagined future-teachers that the kids may have? Or are we working for our colleagues in the next grade, or the senior courses in the rooms down the hall?

I submit that if we spent more time worrying about providing quality educational opportunities for the students we have in front of us now, that we’d be better off in both cases. That the students now would learn more and better things, and that the future-teachers will appreciate their skills. For my part, I’ll get over the fact that maybe students haven’t had the chance to master some specific bit of knowledge if they are better learners, and eager to give things a shot in my class.

So, as I thought about it, I’ve decided that I’m no longer going to be concerned what the teachers next year, or any year after that, (university prof’s I’m looking at you!)  may wish for me to do in my class, I’m only going to worry about what the students in my class need, and what will work best for them.

How about you? Are you working for another colleague? Or some imagined future-teacher?

Andrew and #learning2030

Warning: Tired parent. Rambling ahead! 

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a taping of TVO’s The Agenda at Trent U in Peterborough. They are doing a series focused on education, and this show focused on the use of technology by teachers and students. I was fortunate enough to get to speak a bit during the show and rambled on a bit towards the end of the program. There’s been lots of great discussion around the issues raised, and I hope that this serves to continue to elevate the level of conversation about changes to education in Ontario. TVO has called their series Learning 2030 because a child born last year when they started would be due to graduate high school in 2030

I’ve been considering all the challenges and changes in education a lot these past weeks. Due in no small part to this.

Andrew
Meet Andrew. Andrew was born this past weekend on March 16th. Andrew has an older sister Anna who is currently in Grade 4 as well. So our family now has doubled our stakes in the value of the Ontario education system. Andrew enters a world where he will never not know about the iPad. Where he will always be able to see his grandparents face to face, even though some of them live 1200 kms away. His world will include video surveillance and real-time tracking and analytics about many aspects of his life. His generation will face challenges that we are still in the process of uncovering, let alone dealing with.

Of immediate concern is the education system that he will be entering shortly. Full day kindergarten awaits him (at the moment anyway, political winds of change notwithstanding). Will it be helpful to him or not? Will Ontario continue its path towards more high-stakes, full-scale testing in the name of ‘improvement’ that can be measured in numbers that make for happy real-estate agents and politicians? Will his teachers continue to be maligned in the pubic sphere by politicians and a populace that think they understand what’s wrong with education and how to ‘fix’ it. Will his education consist of problem-solving, deep thinking and understanding, or will it be a ramped up version of worksheets for a digital age?

As you can sense, I have some questions…   As a teacher, I’m not sure that I see answers that I deem worthy of implementation. I wonder how to do some of the things that I think are required, and look at the whole Titanic-sized system and wonder how we can change the course of the ship. Sometimes I think that the answer is to reboot it completely, and rather than make change in the one we have, to think of ways to re-invent it from the ground up. Of course, there are numerous questions that arise with that, due to the highly politicized nature of education that is funded via public coffers. Everyone deserves a say, and everyone thinks that they deserve to be not only listened to, but obeyed. Democracy works on principles of the value of debate, but not every idea is created equal, or can be implemented.

So what to do? Do we examine the concept of curriculum itself? Change the way we actually produce and write the documents that are meant to guide learning because those documents are predicated on everyone learning the same thing at the same time. Will modern learning look like this? Do we examine the point of schools themselves? Do we examine what it means to be a teacher? Is what happens in a classroom the only thing of value? Do students learn valuable things when we engage them in things that are traditionally ‘extra’-curricular? Does this mean that they are not ‘extra’? Does this mean that things like the workday, job descriptions and pay need to be examined to critically assess whether or not they would actually meet the needs of a learning environment for not just 2013, but off into the future of 2030 and beyond?

Big questions I know, but I’m not sure that we can do anything without asking some of those deep questions. Do I have answers? I’m not sure, I have ideas, but most of the ideas I have seem to require a fundamentally different system that the one we see now. And I’m not sure how to address that.

I do know one thing. As a teacher, I’ve been convinced of the value of open-ended, deep learning that gets beyond a surface approach to curriculum topics, so I will continue to advocate and promote that in my work. As Anna & Andrew’s dad, I’ve got a new sense of urgency. Change takes time, and deep, systemic change takes that much more. We may have been talking about what learning will look like for Ontario students in 2030, but now I’m talking about what learning looks like for my kids. Not just in the future.

Today.