Last week, along with Dan Pontefract and David Vandergugten, I was invited to talk at an ERAC contacts meeting. The presentation’s theme was “Embracing Change”. Having been told it was going to be a panel discussion, I was somewhat relaxed in that, like Dan, I believe that learning is “a connected, collaborative and continuous process”. For me, extending learning through focused conversation has always been a stimulating medium to knowledge creation. However, in an email a few days later, I was informed that I would be presenting for 45 minutes. Good-bye conversation, good-bye relaxation: hello hyperventilation!
The night prior to the presentation, I arrived home late from work. My neighbor, Ferdinando, greeted me as I exited my car. He asked why I was coming home at such a family unfriendly hour. As I explained to him, in Italian, that I had been preparing for a presentation about embracing change, he looked at me and in his philosophical pragmatism developed through years of hard work as a stone mason, this 74 year old Trevisano looked at me with a wry smile and said, “At my age, embracing change is like welcoming death.”
I chuckled with him but over the evening I began thinking about his statement. Is it really that different? I think of educational change and I see similarities. As educators leading a change agenda, what we are offering, really, amounts to the hope of a possibility. The hope is about belief (it really can happen). Fostering it is dependent upon living your mission and in so doing, shifting behaviours. The possibility is not a leap of faith. In this case it is the actual demonstrated, the showcased and shared pockets of excellence that help everyone visualize the crucial “how to” element: a prerequisite to the success of any “change” initiative.
The hope of a possibility.
My starting point for hope is the natural promise in every child: that “thing” I never want them to lose: the innate inclination to learn. I can think of no better video to make my point than that of “Rosie” leaving her pre-school at the end of her very first day.
Steve Cardwell speaks of inspiring students to move from doing to engaging: a great starting point. However, once engaged, the greater journey, the one we need to facilitate, is the move from extrinsically driven finding to intrinsically motivated discovering. Rosie has “found” information in her school and is now extending it, working her imagination to reframe it and in so doing discovering new ways of developing and personalizing meaning. Her attempts to share this information with her father are, in effect, her new artifact of learning (notice there is no technology here – other than a Volvo!). And what I like most about it, is that if you listen closely, at the end of the clip, she becomes a critical learner and brings secondary sources into her argument as she finishes the clip with, “And you know mom thought . . .”
The hope of a possibility.
To borrow from Stephen Heppel, Rosie represents “the end of education and the dawn of learning.” For her, the acquisition of knowledge is an open, transparent, non-hierarchical, interactive and real-time process. There is no consciousness of a formal education system – nothing for her needs to change because every one of her interactions is grounded in new knowledge.
Rosie is the hope and as I think of her, I can’t help but reflect on the type of young girl she is bound to become. She will become more informed and better connected to others around the world than at any time in history She will be asked to blend herself into a world that is both physical and virtual. She will be expected to access and organize more information than her predecessors. She will “work” this information through the use of technology, which will be, in effect, her second skin.
In all of this, the one word that has not been uttered is “content”. The hope is that for Rosie, her “ways of doing” will be transferable in an age of ever changing and increasingly sophisticated product. That in embracing change, those who oversee her educational plan will not focus on incorporating a whole bunch of new tools into content-driven curriculum but rather use the tools to focus upon a skills-driven curriculum.
If Rosie is the hope, we need to provide her with the possibilities. It is our responsibility to shift our behaviours, to share our pockets of excellence and together, collegially, develop new ways of doing:
From teacher directed to process and active learning
From simple information assignments to individual and collective knowledge construction
From classroom learning to networked and global learning
From test driven to learning that explores big ideas and concepts
From teachers working in isolation to collaborative teaching partnerships
The challenge of facilitating new ways of learning and the obstacles of moving from the known to the unknown have always been at the heart of educational change. Nothing has changed because everything is constantly changing! Let’s embrace this change, it’s part of our fabric and it offers us the rationale for all that we do: the hope of a possibility.