Deja Vu…All Over Again

…there are many committed, forward thinking teachers who will make (inquiry and authentic work) happen despite the barriers. But community members, parents, legislators and lobbyists will resist large-scale transformative change at every turn because they are tied so deeply to their nostalgia for school as they knew it or to the potential windfalls of making traditional schools better.”      ~Will Richardson~

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post. After a quiet, blissful summer with family and friends I’ve launched into the start of the school year at a new location with the opportunity to get to know a new team of educators, students and families. September did bring lots of new stuff; but to quote the dearly (and recently) departed dugout linguist Yogi Berra, there is an element of that deja vu all over again in our schools this fall.

Current circumstances and events, along with the some of the reading I’ve been reflecting upon, has got me thinking about where we are in our profession, in our schools and our systems. Specifically, I’ve been reading Will Richardson’s latest book From Master Teacher to Master Learner and hope to weave a narrative over the next few posts to share my thinking, connect with some fellow travelers and, hopefully, provoke others to do likewise.

I’m a tinkerer; a restless soul with a willing disposition to challenge the status quo. As a school principal and prior to that, as a classroom teacher, I’ve tried to meet challenges and solve problems with creativity, imagination and a willingness to try new things, take risks and make mistakes. It helps that I welcome the ideas and perspectives of others; especially when these prompt me to refine and revise my thinking. This is how I learn and, above all, I see myself as a learner.

This is why, I’m sure, that I’ve found Will’s blog posts, talks and books to be so helpful. I can connect with his ideas and perspectives, both as a father and an educator. They give me pause to think, help me reflect upon my work and support me in my advocacy.

To lead public schools today requires degrees of creativity, optimism, resilience and the capacity for what Roger Martin has called, integrative thinking; the ability to incorporate two seemingly opposite ideas simultaneously to create change out of unpleasant or difficult situations.

Right now, and for the past 20 years, the stakeholders in our school system have engaged in fierce conversations and debates about the structures of our system; allocation of resources, organization of schools, reporting processes, class size, standardized testing and sequencing of curriculum standards. These policy points reflect a belief that the imposition incremental adjustments to the structure of schools and systems can effect a change in outcomes for students. This hierarchical stance no longer serves us in our networked, connected world but it remains the dominant mindset that we apply to our classrooms, schools and systems.

Nested within this conversation is an actual problem; at every level of our system (classroom, school, district and and legislative) our structures reflect a scarcity mindset that is based upon one-way transmission. The teacher who limits student learning to content-based worksheet lists and discreet facts that are doled out incrementally in advance of the test is no different than the school administrator who is required to appraise teachers based upon student test scores and classroom look-for checklists; or the policy maker who makes the decision to mandate investments in resources (like school technology) without accounting for the front-line implementation of these resources in schools.

All of these examples reflect the belief that when information, or performance, or resources are transmitted and measured; learning is an outcome. But this is no longer the case.

Learning, Will reminds us, is actually an outcome of learning. And learning is a process that is provoked by the questions of the learner, not the information that is being transmitted by the teacher.

So the questions I want to explore over the next few posts relate to the things we can do as educators to interrupt this ‘deja vu’ and change our conversations (and our systems) to be learning-focused for all; teachers, administrators, parents and most of all, students.

Thoughts?

  1. Robert Dunn
    October 4, 2015 at 10:28 am

    This is interesting. I find it not surprising but disheartening that you do not see that the focus on inquiry has not permeated the classroom. (Maybe it is the WRONG work?) you talk about interruption. Surely that is a main role of the school administrator (reminds me of Steven Katz’s book, Intentional Interruption). Certainly the report done by either Roger Martin or Richard Florida for the McGinty government on the future role of the school system would agree with the need for a restructuring of education. However, since we have never really implemented prior change efforts (e.g inquiry based learning) I never saw much hope for the Florida/Martin vision. One of the big challenges is to figure out what the “new normal” will look like, how do you define the new skills and then how do you interrupt current practice , without creating victims of the process (it is always the least fortunate who suffer the most in these shifts – they typically have neither the support systems nor the social capital to progress while we get our act together).
    A thought provoking blog.

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