Sunday, February 28, 2010

There's always another way...


I've been speaking with loads of people about education reform lately.

The topic of reforming education in North America is a popular one. Everyone's talking about education reform... in politics, economics, the social sciences, fine arts, health and wellness, science/technology and doubtless other areas as well. I'm left wondering, no matter where education reform ends up, who's going to lead the change?
I'm reading The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change, by Andy Hargreaves and Dennis L. Shirley. The authors begin chapter one by stating,
We are entering an age of post-standardization in education. It may not look, smell or feel like it, but the augers of the new age have already arrived and are advancing with increasing speed.
I'm not finished the book, but it appears to me that Hargreaves and Shirley have presented an excellent call-out to anyone concerned with the state of education, and who wants to be part of the process. Half way through I'm thinking this is a book that every teacher should be reading, not just in North America, but throughout the world. Sustainable change results from bottom-up, grassroots tipping of ideas. Who better than teachers, hundreds of thousands of them, to lead the move into this post-standardization age in education? In order to do this well, teachers will need to get re-aquainted with the core beliefs and guiding principles that they've been suppressing for so long amidst the standardized system many have spent their entire careers working within.

Everyone, including me as a teacher and parent, has an opinion regarding why education needs to be reformed, and how it should be done. Teachers are embroiled in the debate to be sure, and it's disconcerting for many who have become so used to being led in transactional ways. There's no shortage of groupthink occuring within the education reform debate, and once a little dichotomous or dualistic thinking is mixed in- voila, we have a full-fledged battle on our hands. Teachers everywhere are looking for a side to belong to. What is particularly troublesome for me though, is not what's included in these conversations, but what's missing. There are so many agendas being promoted as part of the massive education reform debate, that it appears to me teachers have lost their foundational voice; the personal belief system that should be guiding them, is missing in action.

As society enters a new age in education, teachers should be playing a paramount leadership role in the process. In order to do this effectively, they will have to think hard about what it is that inspired them to become a teacher in the first place, and how their preferred future in education might align with these long-lost values and ideologies. To this end, I thought I'd do my small part as an educator and espouse  some of my personal beliefs about teaching and learning. I'm going to choose some of my more passionate beliefs and post them here over the next few weeks. I'm going to do this because I believe in public education, and I believe that teachers, as the most critical cogs in the machine, have very important voices to express in moving what we do to the next level. Perhaps my effort will resonate with other teachers and encourage them to express their voices as well, but if not, at least I've made my contribution.
Here goes... 
"I believe that effective education is about people, always. We must reach people on personal levels to foster relevance in what they learn."
In the era of standardization in education, what Hargreaves and Shirley refer to as the Second Way, students and teachers became resources in a game of high-stakes targeting of externally prescribed goals and benchmarks relative to the teaching and learning process. Somewhere in the fervor to meet these external standards, I think teachers lost some of their humanity. Curriculum standards, testing standards, professional development standards, accreditation standards... perhaps necessary elements to high-quality education, but when coordinating supports and resources aren't in place to help meet the standards, stress and anxiety result. Teachers have felt both stress and anxiety in massive doses for a long time, and this can't be good for the kids in their classes.

I have maintained my view that the most direct path to a well-adjusted student who has a passion for learning is to support the teacher working with that student professionally and personally. Well-adjusted, well-prepared and hard-working teachers are built through systems supports that ensure affordable access to professional development, curriculum development support and sincere appreciation for the effort they make every day within challenging learning environments. We need to reach teachers on an emotional level in order that they can do the same for their students.

I'm fond of this quote...
“An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” - Carl Jung
Enough said. Stay tuned.
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