How exciting is it to be in the field of education right now? While I’m still in the first half of my career, never before can I think of a time where the possibilities and potential for amazing work exist like they do now. Some fear the change and turbulence swirling around the profession but it’s in this type of atmosphere that allows innovation and creativity to flourish. It’s not easy though. There will be false starts, dead-ends, U-turns, but these are the side effects of innovation and designing a new set of educational experiences by teachers for students.
In order to create the innovative culture that our schools so desperately need, I would like to advocate for a tight but loose approach. Tight in the sense that there are specific supports put in my place by stakeholders to allow schools, administrators, and teachers to have a universal language. A step in this direction has been achieved in Kentucky by the shift from ‘professional development’ to ‘professional learning’. While on the surface this seems like simple semantics, in reality it entails a cultural shift in the profession that would revolutionize how teachers and administrators work toward the goal of student achievement. Paramount in this work is the establishment of professional learning standards. These standards outline the types of experiences educators need in order to grow and refine their craft. The responsibility of professional learning rests not only with the individual educator to reflect about their own practice, but also the school and district administrators to create a culture and vision, and even more importantly time and space, for this type of professional learning. Learning Forward’s “Learning Design Unit” provides the ‘tight’ framework that allows teachers and administrators to have a universal language, but there are enough of the learning designs to create freedom and flexibility for teachers to work on the portions of their craft that need the work. Until each and every one of us possesses the desire and ability to grow and do that difficult introspective look in the mirror, our kids will continue to only achieve “despite the system, not because of it”. I am convinced that this type of ‘professional learning’ is a learned skill and many of the great teachers in our schools are already leading the way.
The second piece of the “tight but loose” shift comes through the adoption of professional processes that work for other fields, specifically the design method. My friends at Business Innovation Factory, @THEBIF, have begun research that is trying to create models for how the design concepts we often see in the business world can be used to improve education. As they say on their website, “building a real-world, collaborative innovation platform to help education transform itself”. Asking teachers to leave the isolation of the profession that has dogged us for much too long is frightening and intimidating to some, but until the profession adopts the mentality that nothing is ever a finished product, that includes our instruction and our students, we will be stuck with the same system of education that we have now. In order for our students to become innovative and creative, we as the practitioners of learning must lead the way. One aspect of BIF’s work is the notion of teacher feedback and how that process has been non-existent for quite some time. BIF has created a model that shows educators the potential of applying the design process to teacher feedback. The concept of the critique, feedback, and refinement are crucial to building ‘professional learning’. What’s the most powerful piece of this innovation is that students learn best when they are engaged in the design process as well. BIF has worked with students across the country in demonstrating this and incorporating student voice into the process of learning. We can’t ask students to design until we apply it and use it ourselves.
By embracing the maelstrom that surrounds us and seeking the potential of the now, we can reinvigorate and rebuild a system that needs it best and brightest working on the work. Don’t stick your head in the sand, waiting for the commotion to dissipate, but run out in front of it. Be the one that seeks out, adopts, implements, guides, and reflects on the path that we must trail blaze. The good news is that you are not alone. There are already some of us out in the rain.
I plan on continuing the conversation and in the spirit of the design process refining my own thinking. Please reach out and critique the work. You can find us on Twitter at @the_explicator (me) or @kastidham (Kelly).