I’m breaking ranks here, but I’m getting a little tired of hearing visionary speakers telling us that schools need to change, that we’re using a 19th century, factory model of learning, with a narrow curriculum, steered towards conformity and exam success, teaching skills that are only useful within school but not in the real world. I’m tired of hearing that we kill creativity and that we don’t encourage students to find and develop their strengths and passions. I’m tired of these speakers comparing what schools do now, with what schools could be like in the future, and showing a few photographs of lucky schools who’ve had the funding to pay for architects, curvy furniture and writable walls.
I’d like to know where the evidence to support this bleak view of education comes from. Where is the evidence that schools are not already doing this – perhaps not perfectly, but each, in their own way working hard to provide an education that inspires and engages students?
I work in a fairly typical public primary school, with a typical group of teachers, ranging in age, experience and expertise. Like teachers everywhere, we care about our students, not just exam results. We want our students to love learning, and we want their experience of school to be positive in every way. We, like teachers everywhere, provide a curriculum that we hope will engage our students and allow each of them to discover passions and develop talents.
Because we care about our students and want to do a good job, my colleagues and I are constantly trying to find better ways of doing things.
Like most schools, we provide a broad curriculum and a variety of learning experiences. Some of the many programs my school provides include: science and environmental clubs, debating, Tournament of Minds, Maths Olympiad, coding groups, robotic clubs, environmental and gardening clubs, writers workshops, book clubs, a kid created TV news show, a short film festival, student blogging, video conferences, community projects, genius hour, social skills groups, positive psychology classes….
We choose from a range of pedagogical approaches to suit our cohorts, the subject matter and the skills of the teachers. We use project based learning, game based learning, individualised learning, flipped classrooms, direct instruction and explicit teaching methodologies.
My school is not atypical. Schools everywhere are continually innovating in response to the needs of their students, social and technological changes, new understandings about effective pedagogy and student learning. There is always more to do, and the many edu-visionaries out there play a useful role in helping us to see what’s possible. But perhaps we could reframe the discussion. Let’s start to acknowledge the impressive work that schools are already doing to inspire and educate students, rather than perpetuating the myth that contemporary schools are backward institutions that haven’t changed since the nineteenth century. Focusing on strengths and achievements is a much more effective way to inspire people to continue striving, than dwelling on failure.
So, the next time you consider how much you and your school have to do before you achieve your ideal of C21 education, and start to feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the constraints that make progress difficult, take a moment to think about how far you’ve come. What are your strengths as a teacher, and what is working well in your school? Let the rest of us know too, by sharing some of your thoughts in the comments below.