Ahhhhhh…Teacher’s Convention…an opportunity to take a breather from the fast pace of our action-packed, always busy, often unpredictable school days. For two full days, we are given time to learn something new to improve our practice, reflect on our work, reconnect with our colleagues and re-energize for the second half of the school year. Why don’t we make time, more often, for this? What would our work and our lives be like if we could slow down, take time to breathe and get off the gerbil wheel that keeps us racing through our school days, our “to-do” lists and our lives? Would we be more effective, more creative, more passionate about our work?
The highlight of my Teachers’ Convention this year was hearing Sir Kenneth Robinson speak in Red Deer. His message reminded me of the importance of cultivating each individual’s creativity in our mission to educate youth for the 21st century. Some significant themes stood out for me during Sir Ken’s talk - many of them were things that I believe we have identified as cornerstones to the teaching and learning at Greystone Centennial Middle School:
1. Schools as Organic vs. Linear
The traditional model of schooling highlights a one size fits all, standardized curriculum that measures, sorts and ranks students in a linear manner in order to feed them up to the next level on the “Educational Conveyor Belt”. This concept of the education system hit home with me personally, when my very creative “out of the box” musician son, in grade 12 at the time, wrote a song in his last year of public education entitled “Our Last Year As Cattle”. As a personal aside, it has been the educational experience, as seen through the eyes of my oldest son, that has contributed to fueling my fire for educational reform for all of our children. The “system” worked for me, as it funneled me off to University in a predictable, linear way…but that conveyor belt doesn’t necessarily work for others who “march to the beat of a different drum”. This linear structure does not work for so many who possess more insight, creativity, imagination and talent than I could ever dream of possessing myself.
The industrialized model that de-personalizes education and treats individuals like “cattle” does not take into account the uniqueness of each of us. It does not value the GROWTH mindset that we need to embrace so that all students feel that they have the potential to realize the unique gifts and talents they possess. A growth mindset can be observed at Greystone when we see teachers emphasizing the use of:
Student Portfolios in which the student charts his or her learning journey over time – looking at successes as well as identifying, for himself or herself, areas for growth AND, with assistance from the teacher, can make a plan for what to do to get to that next level;
Process Reflections that help students focus on becoming aware of themselves as learners;
Assessment FOR Learning that provides students with timely feedback about their learning and what is needed in order for that particular learner to show growth next time around;
Fail Forward – mistakes are used to improve learning, we use them as opportunities to develop skills in perseverence, reflection and goal setting for next time. Students (and teachers) engage in the process of objectively analyzing their own work and the work of others in order to identify whether or not co-created criteria have been met (and if criteria has not been met, what would need to be done to improve).
As Educators, it is our responsibility to uncover those “human resources” that live inside each of us and if mined, would provide our youth with what they need to contribute confidently to the world of their future. This is what we do when we differentiate our instruction based on individual learner needs and when we seek to build an inclusive model of education for students by providing “room at the table” for each and every learner who comes into our school.
Sir Ken does a brilliant job of exploring the paradigm shift that needs to occur if we are to move from an industrialized to an agricultural system of education that personalizes learning for students and provides multiple pathways to the future. To this end, we are so excited about the work being done in our School Division, particularly at the High School level, where students are being provided with opportunities to have their unique needs as learners met through the Flexibility Enhancement Project.
Beginning with the end in mind, we need to remember that we are preparing our students for an end we can’t even imagine right now…so it is best to tap into the unique potential of each and every one of our learners in order to provide them with an education that gives them the confidence in themselves to recognize their talents and then to continue to explore and build upon those talents to create success for themselves now and in the future. So…how do we do this?
2. Space to Create
In Sir Ken’s TEDTalk about the Education Revolution, he describes the “Fast Food Model of Education” that values speed in productivity with an emphasis on conformity. When we keep running around and around on the gerbil wheel each day, attending to our endless list of same old same old activities, tasks, meaningless assignments and booklets, we not only fail to ignite the passion and creativity of our students, but we also extinguish the flame of purpose and excitement among our teachers. As a result, we move to dreary ”Flobbertown”, where, as Dr. Seuss describes in his book “Hooray for Diffendoofer Day”, everybody does everything the same. In this scenario, the classroom, school and community becomes a very dull, boring and soul-less place to be. Most importantly, we all fail to realize the potential each of us has for using our imagination and creativity…to move into a space where,as Sir Ken describes in his book “The Element” we can live lives that are filled with passion, confidence and personal achievement.
What we need to do to create a school community that is alive with growth, new ideas and fluorishes with potential is provide TIME …the space for all of these wonderful opportunities is available right now by doing more with less…getting “back to basics” as Sir Ken puts it. Back to basics implies that we have all that we need in a classroom, in a school RIGHT NOW. We don’t have to wait for someone to transform the system in order to create connections, ignite desire and uncover passion that exists in each and every one of us. We can reconnect to the art of teaching by slowing down and making time to build the relationships between teacher, learners and the relationship between learner and topics to be uncovered. No more rushing to “cover” the curriculum; but instead, make time to connect with ideas, processess, and understandings that are there to be “uncovered” by all of us. How to do this:
What if we make time to slow down our lives, to focus on the really important things…would we feel more fully alive, inspired and would we be able to tap into the creative talent that lies inside of each of us? And how would this impact our own lives and the lives of those we touch each and every day? Time to get off the gerbil wheel…
No great thing is created suddenly. There must be time. Give your best and always be kind. ~ EPICTETUS