What could be the future of learning?

It might seem strange to look towards the future by first looking back at the past, but it seems that there have always been deep thinkers considering the purpose of school and education, challenging the status quo and trying to revolutionize the way we learn. So what have we learned from them and what are we going to do with it? How we will use their voices to make our own choices and take ownership over the future of learning? 

“He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger” wrote Confucius (551 BCE) in Lunyu. He did not believe that we are born with natural abilities but develop our knowledge through long and careful study. He also had suggestions for pedagogy, “Only for one deeply frustrated over what he does not know will I provide a start; only for one struggling to form his thoughts into words will I provide a beginning.” (Lunyu).

Do we offer opportunities for learners to be thinkers? Do we help our children understand that they can develop skills and abilities through hard work or do we also quietly identify those who are “gifted” and who are not? Do we consider that we can grow our own abilities or are we “just not great at math”? How much do we let our students struggle and how much do we help?

The words of Socrates (470 BCE), as portrayed in Plato’s works, state that “knowledge will not come from teaching but from questioning,” through this process the student “will recover it [knowledge] for himself.” Socrates did not believe that any one person or organization can teach others but that we learn by seeking our own understanding of truth by questioning and interpreting the wisdom and knowledge of others. He believed the goal of education is to “help you know what you can; and, even more importantly, to know what you do not know.” (Bob Burges, New Foundations)

Do we teach our students how to question or how to answer? Do we allow them to find their own meaning or do we give them our meaning? Do we act as teachers or as guides?

Mo Tzu (468 BCE) believed that we learn through challenges and by reflecting on failures (and successes), that we realize self-knowledge through questioning not conforming. His philosophy was one that encouraged people to work hard to change their fate and the inequality in the world.

Do we allow children the space to make “shame free” mistakes? Do we offer the time and guidance for authentic reflection or is it a chore met often with a groan? Do we ask our students to conform too often to the norms we set out for them? Can we allow them more opportunities to determine their own destinies even within our school communities?

Plato (428 BCE) wrote about a learning society in The Republic and The Laws, he presented a model for what we now describe as lifelong education.

Do we encourage lifelong learning by having an endpoint to school? Should we be enhancing the education of our adult learners through more professional learning opportunities, mentorships and coaching? Can we make our schools learning organizations? Can we better model lifelong learning for our students?

Aristotle (384 BCE) wrote, ‘Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it… We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate ones, brave by doing brave ones.’ (Aristotle Niconachean Ethics, Book II, p.91). He also categorized the disciplines into the theoretical, practical and technical.

Do we concentrate too much on the theoretical? Do we ignore practical and technical knowledge? Do we give our children the opportunities to do, to experience for themselves? Could we allow them more authentic learning experiences?

Michel De Montaigne (1533) wrote in his essay On Educating Children: “Obest plerumque iis qui discere volunt authoritas eorum qui docent.” [For those who want to learn, the obstacle can often be the authority of those who teach.]

Are we the obstacle? How do we share the “authority to teach”?

John Locke (1632) composed Some Thoughts Concerning Education where he stated that children “love to be treated as Rational Creatures,” and that parents and teachers should develop the habit of reasoning rather than just memorization. He emphasized a need for teaching critical-thinking skills. Locke also said that adults must should teach children how to learn and to enjoy learning; the teacher “should remember that his business is not so much to teach [the child] all that is knowable, as to raise in him a love and esteem of knowledge; and to put him in the right way of knowing and improving himself.”

Are we honoring children as “rational creatures”? Do we teach them how to learn or what to learn? Do we support their love of knowledge and guide them to find it on their own or do we prevent them from finding their passions through mandatory assignments and compulsory requirements?

On Education was written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712); he said that early education should be more about interactions with the world and less about books. He discussed the value of developing inferential thought processes through experiences and observations. Rousseau believed that middle education should then continue on to the selection of a trade and learning the skills of a trade. He believed education should be useful and purposeful for the learner.  And finally, he posits that education should conclude with lessons on human emotions, especially sympathy, so the learner could be prepared to be brought into the world and socialized as an active and compassionate citizen.

Do we allow our young learners the chance to interact with the world and develop their senses to wonder and question and derive meaning from experience or do we focus too much too early on reading and writing and arithmetic? Is there a role for apprenticeships in school? Do we include enough character development in our curriculum, are they ready when they leave us to be compassionate citizens?

John Dewey (1859) believed that students should be part of their learning, to not just learn pre-determined skills, but to use their own prior knowledge and make connections with new ideas, to find out through hands-on learning or experiential education. Instead of just mastering facts, learning rules and being compliant, Dewey suggested, schools should help students to be reflective, inquirers, autonomous, critical thinkers and morally sound citizens.

Do we focus too much on “predetermined skills”? Can we allow our students to be more a part of the learning? Do we have too many rules and expect too much compliance?

Jean Piaget (1896) suggested that teachers should view students as learners and view education as learner-centered. This means that there should be an allowance for learners’ to shape their curriculum. He also believed that learners can construct, or build, understanding for themselves. Piaget said: “Education, for most people, means trying to lead the child to resemble the typical adult of his society … but for me and no one else, education means making creators… You have to make inventors, innovators—not conformists” (from Conversations with Jean Piaget, Bringuier, 1980, p. 132).

Do we allow our students to construct their own meaning by shaping our curriculum? Do we nurture creators and innovators or conformists?

Paulo Freire (1921) and George Counts (1889) advocated for critical pedagogy. They believed that teaching is political and knowledge cannot be neutral. Their goal with critical pedagogy was to help students become more aware of the political perspectives within knowledge to develop critical consciousness and affect change in their world. Counts proposed that teachers “dare build a new social order” he continued by saying that teachers “cannot evade the responsibility of participating actively in the task of reconstituting the democratic tradition and of thus working positively toward a new society.”

Do we offer students opportunities to find information from diverse perspectives or are we teaching only one side of history and knowledge? Do we offer education for everyone or only those that fit our mold? “Do schools reflect society, or do schools transform society?” (quoted from Kevin Bartlett)

So what are my big takeaways? What we have learned about education and schools from the big thinkers throughout time? Will they guide us to reimagine schools? What could be the future of learning? Can we create learning communities where there could be:

  • More guidance for self discovery (Less teaching)
  • Learning organizations with more adult learning opportunities – lifelong learning!
  • More practical, authentic learning experiences offered – in the real world! (Less theory taught)
  • More opportunities to cultivate skills, especially critical thinking skills (Less emphasis on the knowledge and curriculum)
  • Possibilities for internships and apprenticeships
  • Classes and interactions focused on character development
  • Opportunities for active citizenship – action!
  • Chances for children to set the norms and determine the guidelines
  • Spaces for students voices to be heard as they determine their own path
  • Places with positive language aimed to develop a growth mindset
  • Spaces where we see the ability in everyone
  • More thoughtful provocations and productive struggle (Less teaching, helping and answering)
  • More active inquiry shaped by the learners (Less planning)
  • More opportunities for students to determine what they will learn, how they will learn, where they will learn, with whom they will learn and how they will know they have been successful
  • Education for everyone
  • Environments that develop creators and innovators (Not conformists)
  • Shared learning, planning, teaching, assessing (Less obstacles)

What could be the future of learning?

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#Teacher Agency: If You Like Pina Coladas and Getting Caught in the Rain: Who Are You Waiting For?

 

Recently a friend of mine was sharing the struggles of leadership in a non-IB international school that is transitioning away from textbooks. During the first year of implementing change, teachers genuinely cringed at the thought and lamented how challenging it was to teach without these curriculum resources. It was hard. There was a learning curve. They had lived in their safe textbook bubble for years and never exercised any critical thinking around curriculum. No one really knew anything about Backwards By Design and had never really attempted creating unit plans. Concept-based approaches were just not on their radar.   Three years later, the struggle continues but in the very best of ways. Those teachers are discovering their mojo, their voice, and their agency. They have learned to finally be teachers that they always wanted to be. As I listened to his teachers’ journey, I recognized that, although my path may be different, I am really quite the same as them.

How often we wait for someone to give us permission to do things differently. We are afraid that stepping out in new directions will make us seem like renegades and trouble-makers. For once, I can comfortably say that I’m okay with being a rebel-it’s not a dirty word and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. And I think I’m finally in that place where I understand that these constraints are really self-imposed. That I have been free all along and I don’t have to do anything to prove to anyone that my ideas are worthy or good. It’s sorta like that cheesy 70’s song, Escape by Rupert Holmes, in which the man who put in a personal ad comes to find out that the woman who responds is his current partner. (Ha- the irony!) I feel like in many ways, it’s the same for me. That what I want is really already in front of me if I just choose to recognize it. Perhaps you feel the same way.

The truth is that our schools need us to be more of who we want to become. Even if we are weird. Even if we stir up a hornet’s nest. Even if we are critical. Even if our ideas challenge the status quo of our school’s culture. Because schools are not there for the adults in the building, they are there for the children who fill its classrooms. And, the futures that our children will live in will require us to rethink education and how we “do school”.

There is a beautiful message from the Hopi Elders, a Native American tribe based in my favorite home state of Arizona, that I keep up as a reminder. I’d like to share it with you.

Here are the things that must be considered:

            Where are you living?

            What are you doing?

            What are your relationships?

            Are you in right relation?

            Where is your water?

            Know our garden.

            It is time to speak your Truth.

            Create your community.

            Be good to each other.

            And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast.

It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.

They will try to hold on to the shore.

They will feel like they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination.

The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off toward the middle of

the river,

keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

See who is there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally,   least of all

ourselves!

For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lonely wolf is over.

Gather yourselves!

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

Let’s all give ourselves permission to be the best of who we are and “let go of the shore” of what is comfortable and allow ourselves to flail around until we gain a steady footing of the transformation in education that we are a part of. It may be hard, but it will be worth it.