Monday, January 12, 2015

Where do we start?

I've been thinking a lot about this post lately. Mainly because of my role, I am able to visit a lot of different schools; and see a lot of different environments. These environments, not unlike the physical world, shape the beings that live within it. Unfortunately, the school environment hasn't changed all that much, has it?

I see people mention it all the time on social media:

"If you take a group of teachers from 100 years ago, and place them in a school today, they wouldn't notice a difference"

It's pretty sad really, that we haven't evolved too much when it comes to the actual physical classroom. Thankfully pedagogy and technology has made up for this lack of environmental progress, but at what point will we stop and really consider addressing the actual classroom?

Walk into most secondary classrooms and you'll see the same thing - desks in rows, the teacher's desk where it's always been, the blackboard/whiteboard/screen/etc. behind them, and the focus of the class is to look to the front. I acknowledge this is not the rule, as I said before 'most' and not 'all' classrooms are this way; but it is a very common element for most schools. I also acknowledge that this setup is beneficial for some lessons, but again 'some' and not 'all'. (I would even go so far as to say 'few' instead of 'some')

With such an environment does it really matter how much technology is implemented in the classroom? Is it conducive to newer more effective pedagogy? Do students really attempt to express themselves to their fullest? Are they able to collaborate effectively? Or build on the other generally accepted 21st century skills of communication, critical thinking, and creativity?

Often I think of what the most successful organizations today look like. I think of companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, etc. that all have very innovative workplaces - a mix of both collaborative and quiet areas, with a lot of room to truly innovate. How can we expect our students to become innovators, creators, communicators, etc. if we don't provide similar environments to do so?

And it's not just the classroom really; take a look at a staffroom. Is it a place for collaboration and innovation? Or like a classroom, is the focus on silent, individual work? How about the library - does it support learning as a 'social process'? And the rest of the school - does it allow for learning to happen anytime, anywhere?

Now I do recognize that there are a tonne of limitations that schools face, that Fortune 500 companies do not. And I also know that major construction really doesn't fall into a school's budget. But what about new schools that are built? Are we really thinking about the future in constructing these places of 21st century learning? Or do we often look to the past in building these 'new' schools?

So changing an entire school may be a difficult mission to accomplish; however, we can begin by taking small steps. In our own classrooms. Comfort & security may be too great to overcome, but it's amazing what happens when a small change takes place. Maybe it's just getting rid of the rows of student desks. Or maybe getting rid of the teacher's desk altogether. But imagine what might happen if you did?

I just think we need to start this progress; and sooner rather than later. I think we need to acknowledge the fact that improving student success doesn't just fall on pedagogy, technology, and curriculum knowledge; we need the environment to change as well. So I guess this post is really about challenging ourselves; stepping out of our comfort zones and really innovate to make a truly 21st century school.

1 comment:

  1. First thought: I've often thought about your pull out statement- and how much would really look the same from 1915? (Dewey was writing then, I believe!)

    Totally agreed about desks in rows- but could a teacher from 1915 teach our students, or fail miserably? Are the subtler cultural and pedagogical changes less subtle than we think?

    I'm not too sure- I agree that desks in rows would look very familiar!

    Also think about this:the companies that you mention encourage innovation because it is how they will increase wealth for themselves and their shareholders. There is a *need* to innovate, or perish as a company.

    Now, how can we create that same *need* in our students? How will they want to design, collaborate, innovate? Do we make the work irresistible to them?

    To this last, Dan Meyer, a movie buff, talks about making kids want to do the math- to go "kill the shark". He, I believe, also uses the word "irresistible".

    I'm not sure of the answers. I do know that technology is often applied as a thin veneer of innovation on top of more traditional ways and tasks.

    What does everyone else think?