School as we know it

TEDx School as we know it needs a revolution if it is to retain any relevance in the modern world.

This morning I was reading an article published online at Huff Post by Will Richardson about the 9 Elephants in the Classroom that we are unwilling to face or even sometimes to discuss. I have to admit that kind of work we do at GME sometimes can feel rather futile as we wonder whether it’s even possible to have any long term impact on institutions where no one is really talking openly about at least some of these 9 Elephants, which include:  our knowledge that most children will forget most of what they learn, most children are bored and disengaged in school, the curriculum is an historical tradition (mostly Western) rather than a universal imperative and is very outdated, the way time is organised and spent serves efficiency more than learning, obsession with grades, testing and homework does not lead to better outcomes, and the most effective and lasting learning usually happens informally and often NOT in school.  One of my dear friends and colleagues said she would also add that we know school is not a place that doesn’t bring about children’s happiness and does not build the kind of community that protects children.  The institution more often works to protect itself and preserve those long-held practices that are now really holding us back from realising all our potential as individuals and as communities.  And even though we know all of this, we still keep finding ways to justify why we can’t do things differently, doubling down on the same old practices–sometimes holding on to them for dear life.   How do we get out of this dysfunctional space that on some level I think we all know we are living in?

Recently I was asked to give a keynote session at a conference for mathematics teachers.  The organisers requested that I focus on teaching practices that are responsive to learners.  As I worked to prepare the talk I realised that apart from things related to technology– there is very little I would say or emphasize now in 2016 that I would not have also said back in 1996–or that I have not also given numerous lectures, workshops and courses on during the past 20+ years.  Some ideas might be more nuanced now or organised differently, but our collective knowledge about what we should be doing in the classroom has not really changed much in all the time.  So the gnawing question is, “If we know what we are supposed to be doing (we do know a lot!!), why aren’t we doing it?”  And furthermore, “if we want to do it, how can we get ourselves to take real action and do it?

I believe that a fundamental step is to start talking more openly about these 9 Elephants and others and acknowledging our responsibility in all of it.  We adults involved in education as policy  makers, proprietors, board members, consultants, school leaders, teachers, parents, and so on–we adults have to own our responsibility in allowing these 9 elephants not just to exist, but to grow and flourish on our watch.  We have to stop making excuses for why we fall so short of our very good intentions.  We have to stop protecting ourselves from blame in the inadequacies of what is happening to our children in schools due to the choices and decisions we make for them as adults.  If we allow ourselves to dedicate time and resources to talking honestly about these issues, we might have a chance to actually change school as we know it.

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