Despite the best will and intent in the world, schools are often confronted by a tension between dilemmas that ultimately determine the culture of learning that students experience as a result. This reality should require all educators to ask some fundamental questions; questions that teacher-training institutions should ensure are addressed, questions that school leaders must resolve, questions that students, parents and teachers should be empowered to ask. How might one best capture such questions?
How do student-centred, evidence-informed, modern schools resolve the tensions that may naturally arise when attempting to navigate:
- academic demands and emotional needs
- content delivery and learner agency
- standardizing and personalizing
- regulation and empowerment
- compliance and risk-taking
- ranking and potential
- best college and right college
- formal education and life experience
- educational success and personal happiness
These tensions are not mutually exclusive. These are, in some instances, not either-or choices, but our foundational emphasis surely needs to be determinedly on the more humane aspects of the equation – the culture of learning, young people reaching their potential – if we want to be truly impactful. The things that educational systems tend to measure – as in student assessment – are the things that we are most easily held accountable for, but how can schools achieve their mission if they do not consider the full picture? More critically, how can the critically important profession of teaching emerge from this mire of proceduralism? In other words, how can learners receive the education they deserve? How can we liberate teachers to do what they truly believe in?
As educators shouldn’t we be obliged to routinely ask ourselves:
- What is the purpose of school?
- What will our learners need in order to lead happy, fulfilling lives?
- What are we doing that we should stop doing?
- How is our approach respectful of student wellbeing?
- What content is truly lifeworthy?
- What kind of school do we want to be?
How do we get schooling right in a world in which, the evidence suggests, there is more and more pressure and demands on our young people? We need to discuss how we resolve these tensions openly and honestly without feeling threatened by the essential dialectic involved.