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Full Circle

As systems go, education is in a realm all to itself because educational systems are so seemingly complex; complicated to understand, strenuous to monitor, and challenging to compare. About the only predictable thing to say about public educational systems is that, for the most part, they haven’t changed much since their original industrial era design and inception.

However, there is one thing that we can say for sure. At the end of the day, we know from research (John Hattie, for example) that “excellence in teaching is the single most powerful influence on [student] achievement.”

So when we talk about effective educational system redesign, we know that we are ultimately talking about building the necessary structures to support the capacity of teachers to practice “excellence in teaching”. We know and agree that teachers need to truly care about their students. This is a given - and certainly worthy of a great deal of system supported attention. But let’s face it, that term “excellence in teaching” is becoming increasingly elusive to define.

Our challenge relates to the fact is that one size never fit all to begin with and, with the evidence of Edushift Premise One all around us, there is an increasing need for teachers to take advantage of the wealth of tools available to them to engage students in personalized learning experiences. But like most things requiring practice, this comes more naturally to some than others; thus, the need for educational system redesign to help teachers to learn, practice and share what to do to be successful.

So what do we really mean by the personalization of education?

Well, we can begin by acknowledging that children want to learn. They enter our school systems with minds like little sponges, soaking up everything that crosses their paths. But for many children, the excitement of school starts to fade away at some point between the end of grade 3 and the start of high school. But if we ask our students what they want from their teachers and learning environments, the answers are usually clear and not very surprising. For example, I was interested to find the results from a small survey overseen by middle school teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron with 220 grade 8 students on the big question “what engages students?” The replies she received from her students can be broken down into the following ten themes:

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.

Would a larger sample size produce different results? You can be the judge but, even as adult learners, most of us can probably relate to the value that these basic attributes offer for an engaging learning environment that we would all prefer - if given the choice.

So let’s break all of this down a bit further.

We know from research that teacher capacity has the greatest impact on student outcomes. And in this era of Edushift Premise One, we have a pretty good sense as to what students are asking for in the way of an engaging learning experience. Yet the basic fact remains that, when the industrial era of educational system was originally designed, the need to address student engagement was not as critical as it is now. So teacher approach matters, but only through the lens of the newly inherent right of students to demand an engaging learning experience at school. The basic rules have changed. Because we can no longer expect parents and students to simply accept what is offered by educational systems through age-based groupings, we need to redesign from a more client-centric perspective. I don’t mean to understate the implications of this. It’s big, but it’s necessary. Way back in post three, I suggested that system redesign should seek to optimize the “knowledge stock” of schools via a new role for teachers as a student guide or coach. So it looks like I have come full circle. Now it’s time to move a bit more from “the why” to “the how”.

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