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Clarifying "Role" – Part 1

So far, I have been using the three premises as a guide to the why” for educational change. 

But I am sensing that Edushift is now at a point where I can move, with a little more precision, into the realm of “the how” – also using the three premises as a guide to openly validate or disrepute all assumptions.

Edushift is not alone in this respect. All systems must begin and end with foundational beliefs and assumptions - so it is important to be clear on what these beliefs and assumptions are and whether they continue to remain valid in their alignment with the way that our systems operate.

For example, a foundational belief and assumption of our 20th century industrial model of public education is that our education systems operate the way that they do because they are financially locked-in by the availability and provision of public moneys - and there is, in fact, a good deal of truth to this.

Our systems of public education operate on public trust. Taxpayers support public education because they understand and believe in the value that it offers to our children and communities as a whole. Our public education systems are provided with a set amount of finances from which they are expected to demonstrate value to the public good.

Traditionally, the highest functioning public education systems have been defined as those that can find and maintain a highly effective equilibrium between the financial supports used for purely operational functions versus actual classroom application. Clearly, this is a moving target that is open to interpretation, thus the need for governance structures - to review and decide how the money is spent with the support of highly accountable levels of administration to ensure that a maximum proportion of budgetary allocations are appropriated to the classroom. If educational system effectiveness was only defined by the distribution of allocated resources, this might be a reasonable foundation to work from. But in reality, we know that the bar has shifted.

In the last post I surmised that I have come full circle; that “the how” is about defining and supporting a new role for teachers. On the surface, this is not a new idea. There is much discussion now, across a wide spectrum of education, of the need for teachers to assume a new role that encourages critical thinking and creativity. It is suggested that teachers should no longer act as a source of knowledge but as a “facilitator” of knowledge; helping students to self-learn by creating a favorable learning environments. The teacher is being asked to “be a guide on the side instead of a sage on the stage”.

But, from Edushift Premise One, we know that our public education systems must become “bottom-up”; organized through strategic budgetary allocations that best meet the personalized needs and expectations of the client. And, as demonstrated from the student survey referenced in the last post, the client can articulate, quite clearly, what this looks like.

Unfortunately, our educational systems are not designed from a bottom-up/client driven perspective.

To clarify, I am not suggesting that teachers and administrators don’t care about students. But our 20th century educational systems continue to organize schools, classrooms, professional development and support etc., from the industrial era presumption that effective teaching involves the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student. They were never designed to directly respond to the personalized expectations of our clients, even if we were able to truly understand what those expectations are.

The most effective educational systems of the future will have the functionality to support, within the means available, what teachers are asked to do to meet the specific learning styles requested from their students. This is about developing educational systems that can respond to the new client-driven world order. 

It has taken me some time, but I have come to realize that role and teaching style is not the same thing. Furthermore, there seems to be considerable ambiguity with the terms “facilitator”, “coach”, “guide”, “mentor” etc. being applied rather loosely and interchangeably to define something new in the way of education. But effective systems require specificity of these important terms so that they can be strategically aligned with intended expectations and results.

So, to get at this, let’s take another moment to revisit the results from the student surveyreferenced in the last post. To recap, in response to the question “what engages students?” 220 grade eight students answered:

1. Working with peers,

2. Working with technology,

3. Connecting the real world to the work we do/project-based learning,

4. Clearly live what you do,

5. Get me out of my seat!,

6. Bring in visuals,

7. Student voice,

8. Understand your clients – the kids,

9. Mix it up!, and

10. Be human.

Now, let’s think about these themes for a moment. And remember, they represent the aggregated responses of the entire group of 220 students surveyed. So, is it fair to suggest that all 220 students feel engaged to the same extent by all ten of these themes? After all, some of these students would probably prefer working more with peers than others. On the other hand, item eight identifies the importance of understanding your clients – the kids. So why isn’t this up at the top of the list?

Theme 3 “connecting the real world to the work that we do/project-based learning” is a teaching approach that is increasingly accepted as promoting critical thinking and creativity, and for good reason. Many, if not most people find a deeper connection with their own self-learning when they can apply it to practical applications. But again, to what extent does this work with some students and less with others?

In the traditional 20th century top-down approach, our well intentioned response to these results would involve the development of acceptable teaching approaches to meet these collective expectations. But we know from research and our own personal experiences that the deepest learning happens when we, as individuals, feel in control of our own learning.

So we can accept that the example of these ten themes impact the learning experience overall, but are they specific enough to help meet the unique needs of each student - to empower individual learning through critical thinking and creativity? From a system perspective, understanding the realities of Edushift Premise One, what are we actually asking teachers to do in response to this information? Are we talking about role, teaching approach, or both? And, once defined, what are the implications for system re-design?

The quest continues.

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