“Is it true,” a prospective parent at our school asked today, “that students are allowed move around during classes, that they can surf the web, have phones and iPods in school?” When one responds to questions such as this … that these things are not only possible in our school, but encouraged, required … parents sometimes look sceptical, troubled, dispirited. One of the real challenges in explaining to some parents and teachers that new approaches to learning are now not only possible, but critical, is that we are all products of schooling ourselves.
Many of us entered schools in which the teacher was the undisputed expert. Knowledge in subject areas could be collated in textbooks. Control and obedience were the order of the day and compliance was even factored into grades. There were some great teachers in these schools. We learned. But things are so much different now. And schools need to be. When parents or teachers ask questions about changes in our learning environments, they are doing so with valid reason. They are talking about ensuring that we are adequately preparing their children and students for an uncertain future. They want to be sure that our schools are on solid learning ground and not simply coasting down the well-trodden path of yet another pointless educational fad. This dialogue is important. But it should not divert us from our purpose.
As Ernő Rubik, creator of the famous cube, relates, many of us went to schools in which teachers taught the answers. Today, “questions are more important than the answers.” It is in this context that we need to engage with parents and teachers and school leaders to demonstrate why schools must not remain the way they have always been; that radical changes in education must be pursued and not shied away from when some parents are concerned that their child will not be “educated”. When we decided to give a laptop to every student at our school, some parents feared this was the end of learning. When we stopped grading homework, some teachers thought it was the end of learning. But when we explored these things together, I think we saw that a new world, with new possibilities, requires a new approach to learning. Our schools today should represent the end to learning as we knew it.
In his excellent book, Why School?, Will Richardson highlights the impact that the abundance of information at our disposal is having on the world today: “[It’s] changing government (Wikileaks), health care (foldit), music (Spotify), shopping (Amazon), and just about every other aspect of our lives in one way or another. Institutional change is everywhere, and, as author Clay Shirky says, people are finding out quickly that ‘it’s not optional’. So why would we think the institution of school would be immune? It’s not.”
What are we being, but negligent, if we can demonstrate to the parents of our students today that the schools we attended are the schools their children will attend? To create the learners who will become the people who can change the world, our students need to move; so do our schools.