3 Conversation Shifts in Education

In March of 2015, I wrote the post, “3 Important Shifts in Education”, and focused on moving these three conversations:

  1. “Digital Citizenship” to “Digital Empathy”
  2. “Student Voice” to “Student Leadership”
  3. “Growth Mindset” to “Innovator’s Mindset”

The focus of the original post was not moving on from the former to the latter, but building upon and moving conversations forward. Almost three years later after writing that post, I wanted to share three new conversations that I see education moving towards currently, and in the future. These three are based on my travels working with educators all over North America, and hearing where they are taking their schools and their students. While many lament the slow speed of change in education, I would argue that it is happening in many schools at a rapid pace. In this recent post from “The Washington Post” by Ted Dintersmith, he would suggest that he is observing some amazing examples of innovation in classrooms and schools as well:

Second, I was blown away by the many inspiring examples of great innovation I encountered — in classrooms, schools, districts and states. In these classrooms, teachers help kids develop essential skill sets and mindsets. Instead of checking off endless content boxes (AP U.S. History, for example, covers five centuries, allowing a whopping 30 minutes for the U.S. Constitution), students master what they learn, apply it and teach others. Much of the learning is hands-on, tied to real-world projects. Students have voice in creating initiatives and in defining their path forward. Teachers are trusted, and students approach schoolwork with a sense of purpose.

With this being stated, here are three progressions I am seeing being at the forefront of many great schools:

  1. Shifting from a focus on “product” to “process”.
     

     “Change” is not something new to our generation. The rate of change though is at an unprecedented rate. Because of this, we need to think a lot more about what students can do, not only what they know.In Thomas Friedman’s book, “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations,” the author challenges how we look at the process of formal education:”Another big challenge is the way we educate our population. We go to school for twelve or more years during our childhoods and early adulthoods, and then we’re done. But when the pace of change gets this fast, the only way to retain a lifelong working capacity is to engage in lifelong learning.”
  2. Think about it this way. Many of you reading this, when you were young, Pluto was a planet. Some information changes over time, but the ability to learn is forever, and more organizations are focusing on moving from “engagement to empowerment” in their schools.
  3. What many people will challenge is that I am saying “knowledge” is not crucial in education, where in fact, I have argued that content is crucial to innovation. It is just not enough.
  4. AJ Juliani and John Spencer, put it succinctly in their book, “Empower”:
  1. Change is not going away, and will only happen at a faster rate. As people continuously ask, “What’s next?”, we should be able to say as educators and learners, that whatever comes next, we will be able to adapt, embrace, and take advantage of what lies in front of us. This shift on “process” to “product” is underlying in the next two conversations.
  2. Shifting from a focus on “assessment” to “self-assessment.”Part of the job of an educator is to give an accurate assessment of where students are at and where they need to go. But what happens when the teacher is not there to provide feedback and guidance? If we are shifting in education to focus more on the “process of learning,” our learners will have to be able to assess their progress through their unique journeys.One way this can be done is through the use of digital portfolios. Since it is much easier to store years of information in a digital format versus paper, this allows us to see where we have been and where we are going. For example, right now you are reading an entry in my digital portfolio, and I can look on something that I wrote three years ago, and to see what has changed in my thinking, and what has stayed the same.
  3. We will have to look at our assessment practices as educators, and understand, that there is so much more to learning than could be summarized in a letter or a grade. When we focus, both as educators and learners, too much on the “number,” we often lose sight of our strengths and where we need to grow. Learners will need to be able to evaluate their own progress if they are going to truly focus on the process of learning.
  4. Shifting from “technology-integration” to “innovative teaching and learning.”When we focus on “edtech,” it seemingly is more focused on what technology we should use as opposed to what learning we want to happen. For example, many schools moving towards digital portfolios are focused more on what tool they want to use, as opposed to what type of learning they want to happen. If you focus more on the type of learning you want to happen, you can often shape the technology to what you want. “Learning” should always lead the conversation. Innovative teaching and learning, places focus on new and better ways of teaching and learning, with or without technology. As I have written in the past:
  5. “If you have people embrace a different mindset and create something better for our students, while still working within the constraints of the system, incredible gains can be made within the present of what is expected, and the potential of what can be created in the future.”
  6. Innovation is not about getting rid of what works, but about ensuring that we are meeting the current and future needs of our students. “Edtech” sometimes puts “traditional learning” into digital packages, whether they work for students or not. As schools focus more on innovation, their starting point should always be the learner in front of them, not the “shiny and new”.

I have been inspired by many conversations with educators, online and offline, and feel the progression I have seen in many schools has been directly related to so many of them focusing on their own learning and continuous growth. They are not waiting for professional learning days or conferences to get new and better ideas, but are jumping into their own development when it makes sense for them. The ability to learn anytime, any place, at any pace, is only valuable if we take advantage of it. Many educators are leading the way by doing just that, and even within the constraints that are placed upon them, are doing amazing things.

If we want to continue this rapid growth though, it is essential we start by having these conversations that help us grow and become better as organizations, not only as individuals. Once we as individuals or organizations think we are “there,” we are already falling behind. Kudos to the many educators that are modeling change happens by starting with yourself, not merely thrusting it onto others.