Why?

File_000Sometimes I feel downtrodden by the current system of education.

Today is one of those days where I feel like my own blend of Paulo Freire and Simon Sinek- constantly wondering… why?

Why aren’t we obsessed with who learners are, how to best serve them, and how to partner with them to learn?

Why do we stay stuck in the way we learned rather than focusing on the opportunities that learners have today?

Why do many educators fight the use of devices in schools and leave it to chance that our students develop fundamental skills for digital learning and citizenship?

Why do we blame teachers for leaving schools when they are not supported or valued, feeling ill equipped or unable to meet student’s needs?

Why do we say we want creative thinkers and problem solvers, yet stifle those opportunities to ensure we get through the “curriculum” or make sure students are prepared for a test?

Why is the teacher the holder of information who needs to be in control?

Why do we embrace school systems designed for people to comply and implement instead of systems designed to empower people to learn, improve and innovate?

Why do we talk about current theory and best practice and not use it to challenge or influence how our students learn?

Why don’t all teachers see learners as wondrous, curious individuals with vast capabilities and limitless potential?

Why do we view struggle as weakness? Why isn’t struggle a crucial and celebrated part of the learning process?

Why do many think of changing “education”, but no one thinks first about changing their “teaching”?

Why do those with intimate knowledge of the day-to-day context and evolving needs of learners have limited decision making power for learning in our schools?

Why do we structure schools and education with resources, curriculum and ideas that are outdated before kids learn them?

Why don’t our school systems serve to develop the skills and mindsets of learners and empower them to find their place in the world?

Why don’t many teachers embrace how students use social media and help them build their digital leadership skills?

Why don’t we hear about the unintended consequences in education, like-“This program helps improve your students’ reading scores, but it may make them hate reading forever”?

Why don’t we admit organizational culture in schools often dictates how people are treated and what we expect of them… teachers and students alike?

Why do we expect to develop creative and innovative thinkers when we want to micromanage every move?

Why does professional learning in education exist in isolation? Why is it checked off by attending events, team meetings and seminars?

Why is change in education focused on better programs and tools instead of creating better ecosystems for learning and innovation?

Why is research in education overwhelmingly focused on the benefits of programs, policies and practices while failing to acknowledge the adverse side effects?

Why don’t all teachers believe they have the power and obligation to create an environment that ensures their students have a place in the world where they feel safe, valued and cared about?

Why do we think we can just “do” a lesson on growth mindset and expect it to change the culture of our classroom?

Why do we say “save your questions until the end”? Why aren’t questions an integral part of the learning process? Valued and actively encouraged?

Why don’t we have open discussions about what we want learners to know and do?

Why are school visions disconnected from professional learning and day-to-day practices?

Why do we preach we believe no two students are alike, yet give standardized assessments to measure performance and success?

Why do we say we want students and teachers to be motivated, yet remove opportunities for autonomy, purpose and agency?

Why don’t we constantly re-examine beliefs about learning and teaching to consider how schools can best serve learners?

Why is doing well on a test a celebrated end goal of learning?

Why don’t we have conversations about the type of learning we want to see in classrooms and the conditions necessary to make it happen?

Why do we standardize learning experiences that rarely meet the needs for all?

Why do we create learning experiences that are meaningful and relevant to our context instead of our learner’s context?

Why do many educators talk about what curriculum or program they are using, instead of how we learn best and what that looks like?

Why is the majority of technology integration focused on the “device” rather than the learner-centered pedagogy?

Why don’t many educators accept they are designers- creators of context and experiences for diverse students to learn and grow?

Why do so many teachers work in isolation and teach in their comfort zones without collaborating regularly with peers?

Why don’t many educators believe they are learners themselves and learn how to learn alongside students?

Why?…

and what am I going to do about it?

What are you going to do about it?

What are we going to do about it?

“Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information.”-Paulo Freire

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”– Simon Sinek

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From Followers to Learners

from-followers-to-learners-1-e1524400967683.jpgIn my teacher preparation program we were taught to comply with “best practice” for lesson planning as determined by the public sector of education.  This meant extensive lesson plans created to ensure preparation by the teacher to engage students in learning specified content.

Let me say that again….

Extensive lesson plans created to ensure preparation by the teacher to engage students in learning specified content.

I was expected to know how to differentiate for diverse needs of all my students. I met this expectation by thoughtfully planning scaffolds, modifications and strategies for various student needs. For my first formal observation in student teaching my lesson plan for one 40 minute period was 8 pages long.

That’s correct…. 8 pages.

I planned for what I was going to say, what students were going to say and do- the entire process of learning according to me. This sort of detailed differentiated lesson planning is considered best practice in many education circles. It’s actually what is expected in many teacher training programs and schools.

With all the planning and focus on differentiating for content delivery, I left little wiggle room for students. There was no space in my plan for student questions, interests or any exploration of the concepts beyond what I knew or told them.

And then came Ms. C’s feedback. Ms. C was my cooperating teacher who was graciously overseeing my development as a student teacher for 5 months.

Ms. C’s feedback was in a different language juxtaposed to that of my first formal program evaluation. In response to my 8 page lesson plan, Ms. C wrote, “You’re great at stifling students in overly structured lessons saturated with content that you deliver. How would you feel if you were in the desk chair during this lesson?”

Ouch. Just ouch.

The beautiful part is that there is so much growth in pain. Ms. C ignited the fire in me to begin a transformational reflection journey- and for that I am forever grateful.

What if instead of me doing all the work to plan completely structured lessons to deliver content, I spent more time understanding the learners and helping them understand the learning goal?

Cue paradigm shift. My entire philosophy and purpose as a teacher began an instrumental change even before I was a “teacher”.

As a teacher to be, I was becoming conditioned by a system to create perfectly structured learning experiences for students. Upon reflecting I was forced to consider exactly what I was taking away from learners by creating those very learning experiences.

The answer was pretty blatant. When I was doing all of the work in planning, I was also doing all of the learning.

I believed in planning and the necessity of differentiation. But, I also wondered… if I create all the steps for learners to be successful, where is the learning process? Will students be able transfer the scaffolds I create for them to different scenarios?

In my quest to answer these questions I found that when the teacher does the cognitive work, finds the resources, and plans the steps for learning- students are walking down a predetermined path…. as followers.

How egotistical is it to think that all students will succeed with my scaffolds, learning process, and differentiated plan… for them.

Meaningful learning is a process that isn’t perfectly structured or completely planned for. It involves learners setting up the process through which they learn. Can they do this naturally? Not that I’ve seen… without support. Teachers support by setting up processes with students for them to learn, not by processing learning for students to follow.

This is where my journey began. From followers to learners. It begins with the teacher; a mindset shift.

Dear Sir, I am.

“Dear Sir,

I am.

Yours Sincerely,

GK Chesterton”

This was a letter that Gilbert Keith Chesterton, a British journalist, sent in response to a question posed in his newspaper column.

“What is wrong with the world?”

Chesterton’s response counters the belief that evil and corruption in our world stem from the environment.

He admits that the root cause of all that is wrong and corrupt in our hearts is well… us.

Around us, within us. Us.

Selfishness. Lack of care for those around us. Greedy intentions.

Interfering with our humanity, development, cooperation, purpose…. goodness.

As an educator, I wonder….

“What is wrong with education?”

“Dear Sir,

I am.

Yours Sincerely,

School”

… but it won’t always be so!

“Management of Students” to “Advocating for Learners”

19 tally marks in my notebook.

That’s the number of times the word “management / managing” was used in a 30 minute meeting to describe a student of concern.

19 times.

I rushed to my desk with angry tears and clamored to pull up Rita Pierson’s, “Every kid needs a champion“. This is my strategy for dealing with the silenced rebel in my head; assurance that my thoughts and perspective is not unique. I am not alone.

After Rita, I looked up the definition of management.

The process of dealing with or controlling things or people. Synonyms: dominate, maintain, regulate, oversee, handle.

19 times.

Call me crazy, but none of those words would be my choice to associate with students, learners or education. Certainly not words I would associate with agency in the context of learning.

Sometimes I just wish I could scream in frustration at the irony seeping through disguised as “here for the kids”, and “in (insert student name)’s best interest”.

What if instead of “managing students” we shifted our mindset to “advocating for learners”?

What if we advocated for our learner’s roles, rights and responsibilities instead of trying to “manage” them?

What if we focused our energy on insisting our “problem” students become the best they can be?

They can be.

Not what we can (choose management synonym: dominate, maintain, regulate, oversee, handle) them to be.

Some learners will not fit our predetermined mold or our idea of a “traditional student”.

What if instead of trying to control them to fit our boxes, labels and expectations- we advocated for them to be…. them.

The best version they can be- of them.

What if?