These days, we seem to be questioning almost every aspect of our public education system. Change is coming, there is no doubt about it. Why? Because public education still resembles too closely what it was when it was first invented. The world has changed and as the British Columbia Education Plan suggests, the way we teach our children should change too. So why is change taking so long? There is no easy answer to this question.
I don’t hold the belief that everything about public education needs to change, we do good work with kids, but we do need to leave behind the 19th century and move on with the 21st century. What would school look like if we started from scratch? Would we group children by age or would we have a home base for some learning and different groupings for other learning? Would we make kids take disconnected courses, or would we allow them the opportunity to do independent project work where they could demonstrate competencies and skills in a multi-disciplinary environment with a coach? Would we average out their learning and give them a mark, or would we give them feedback as they learn and help them set learning goals to reach for mastery of big ideas and learning standards? Would we partner with the community and use real life problems and challenges to develop creativity and critical thinking or would we give them a text book (real or on a tablet computer) and have them simulate these same skills? Would we ask all kids, introverts or extroverts, athletes or scientists, artists or leaders, to all learn in the same way or would we design different learning opportunities, etc.
The answer, to me, lives in realm of leadership. Teacher leaders, parent leaders, student leaders, principals, community leaders, all have a role to play in building a shared vision of change in education. Leaders must be able to bring people together and build a shared vision of what today’s students need. I saw an image recently on the internet that resonated with me and it kind of represents the leadership challenge we face in public education: (author unknown)
Public education has been in a system wide “comfort zone” for a long time. The day after I saw this drawing, I viewed a TED talk that illustrated this idea beautifully. Composer Eric Whitacre wanted nothing to do with singing in a choir when he entered university but was talked into it by a friend. He left his comfort zone and the rest is, as they say, history. (Click to hear more about this story, well worth it). To move a stuck system forward, leaders need to focus on the space between the two circles. The leadership challenge is to clear a path that is compelling, supported and purposeful and to build a vision of what can be. Transformation will happen classroom to classroom, school to school, community to community. How do we work together and work with children and with parents and with community to get to the magic of learning in today’s world? I am absolutely convinced that shared leadership at all levels is the key, and perhaps, stepping outside of our collective comfort zone. In the words of the students from Mrs. Wick’s 9 and 10 yr old class in our school, “we don’t know what it is going to look like yet, but it is going to be awesome!”