Thursday, January 31, 2013

Responsive Education Does Not Fit in a Box

In Making Learning Visible for Teachers, Hattie points to the need for teachers to adapt to meet students' learning needs in engaging ways.  He points out the importance of identifying success criteria and realistic learning goals then moving through a number of strategies with a child to bridge the gap between unknowing and knowing while adapting along the way.

This responsive education does not fit neatly into a box. I like the way that Melinda Sears describes learning "as a living, breathing organism that evolves for the benefit of the learner."

Many would like to fit learning into a box, a kit, an outline, a rule, or a system. In truth all of those constructs can serve as guides when it comes to optimal education, but cannot serve as tight, unyielding decisions. There needs to be room for movement and adaptability if we are going to teach children well. Unfortunately systems of old or factory model systems do not work this way.

The need for adapting systems is particularly true when it comes to technology.  Technology is ever changing, a moving target, and there is so much that we haven't figured out yet about technology with regard to serving children well.  We know that there are many new possibilities on the horizon to try and explore in an effort to boost students' engagement, confidence, skill, concept and knowledge.

So how do we move in this direction with strength, purpose and positivity. There are a number of strategies that can be implemented to move systems down this path.  I've written about these strategies before, and I'm writing about them again in an effort to make these ideals come to life in my school and schools everywhere to benefit students.

Meaningful, Purposeful, Responsive Endeavor: Whenever and however possible, we must reach for engagement when teaching children. As Hattie points out, research supports the fact that engagement  produces significant results when it comes to student investment and learning.  Hence, the projects and problems students engage in must be meaningful, purposeful and responsive.  

Adaptation: We must continue to try as many strategies and tools as we can to ease the gap between unknowing and knowing for children. We know that the "one size fits all" learning strategies of the past lead to frustration, depression and failure for many students.  Instead of trying to change children to adapt to the curriculum, we must adapt the curriculum to children's areas of competence, strength and accessibility as we help them to develop their learning tool kit and move towards greater flexibility and facility in all learning endeavor.

Collaboration: No one in education knows it all.  Vibrant, dynamic teams, conversation and collaboration will help to optimize and maximize our efforts with regard to student learning and engagement.  Structures such as PLCs (personal learning communities) can foster collaboration in schools if done well. Also a general attitude towards trust and respect with regard to the voices of all students, educators, staff, family members and community members will contribute to positive collaboration, which in turn benefits children because the best ideas and practice have a chance to rise to the top. 

Communication and Protocols: Adaptive education requires communication streams that are positive, flowing and guided by protocols.  Who communicates to who?  What are the protocols that lead action and innovation?  In this new tech age, what protocols streamline communication so that people are not overwhelmed, yet also invite regular, dynamic conversation with all members of the learning team.  It is a new age when it comes to communication, and it is essential that people know what to expect and agree on guiding protocols that enhances regular, positive, inclusive dialogue focused on students' success by all members of the learning community. 

Innovation: We know that continued creativity and innovation will help us to remake schools into positive, proactive learning communities that prepare students for a world that we can imagine in engaging ways.  What does innovation look like in your system?  What are the guiding protocols when it comes to sharing new ideas?  Are there idea systems in place that foster idea growth and trial at all levels of the organization?  Is this a fluid, flexible system that facilitates the movement of ideas from outside of schools into student learning in steady, smooth ways. 

Voice: In classrooms, research points to the fact that the "sage on the stage" strategy for teaching has merit in small doses, but mostly students should be the ones who are actively engaging in learning with discussion, activity and practice.  Similarly schools should make time for teacher voice too.  How often do educators in your system have a chance to share best practice, problem solve together and create in dynamic and diverse teams?  How do you foster a climate where conversation and debate are welcome?  Do you open the streams of communication so that plans, implementation, decisions, analysis and ideas for future growth are openly shared with all in the learning community as a way to foster investment, ownership and voice?  

The shift from factory model schools to learning communities is an optimal change that is within our reach.  Changing mindsets is the most important part of this shift.  We can begin to shift mindsets in these ways:

  • Voices Matter. All members of the learning community must realize that their voices matter. We can make that shift by instituting guiding protocols for communication amongst students, family members, educators, administrators and staff members as a way to foster respectful, dynamic exchange.
  • Guiding Protocols: A shift from tight rules to guiding principles and protocols will open the door for greater adaptation and flexibility, and move us to a focus on students first, and curriculum second. 
  • Make Mistakes, Take Risks. A willingness to make mistakes and take risks, and a respect for that action will send a green light to all members of a learning community that learning is not a fixed notion, and with greater risk taking and innovation we're more likely to meet students' ever-changing needs and interests with greater success. 
  • Create Vision. Making the time in advance to discuss big ideas, create vision and establish a guiding plan will help all members in the learning community to focus on similar areas of research, innovation and work.  It is essential that the vision setting includes all members of the community in some way as when vision is set without that engagement, investment lags.
  • Embrace Debate and Diversity.  We won't always agree and that will foster valuable conversation--rather than seeing a point of debate as a hinderance, find ways to use debate to refine our service to children by respecting all voices and making time for conversation. 
Lately I have read many articles about the changing structures of management and business. I've read Pink's book, Drive, and the research that supports success as it relates to autonomy, mastery and purpose.  I wonder if education systems would be wise to bring in consultants who are well versed in these new leadership strategies and efforts to guide leadership teams and staff  in school systems.  In turn those leadership teams and staff would foster autonomy, mastery and purpose, and that would foster a similar attitude and action when it comes to promoting student voice and choice.  

In many cases we already do a good job, but there is still tremendous room for growth and change. As I continue to repeat, this is a dynamic time of promise and possibility, let's seize the moment to grow, innovate and change to best serve students' needs and interests.