The role of educator today calls for inspirational leadership which is rooted in and grows out of a coherent philosophy that defines educational change; not as a goal but as a process of engagement around moral purpose and identity. The inherent challenge is and will always be to foster purposeful coherence around this change: to focus upon it as a process of learning best understood as knowledge creation which builds understanding within the context of human relationships.
The quest for best practice around the development of learning in Vancouver calls for a fundamental shift within the District. Teachers and administrators today are more informed and better connected to others around the world than at any time in history. But this does not mean that they are ready for this level of information and interconnection. The fact that they have access to more information and people does not mean that they know how to organize it, find meaning within it, make common cause and become creative thinkers. At the school and at the district level, we need to demonstrate an ability and a willingness to respond positively to this reality and facilitate professional development which will leave us all open to new possibilities and more comfortable with the inevitable movement from the known to the unknown.
We are at a crossroads but it has only a little to do with budget and a lot to do with the redefining of our roles and the role our schools play in involving students in rich, authentic, collaborative work that builds essential 21st century skills. The traditional role of high schools as transmitters of content knowledge is already being overtaken by a process that can best be termed ‘information emancipation’: the ready availability of knowledge in open-source online environments. We need to embrace these new environments and leverage them both to help students learn content and to free up time for them to be creative while working with multi-faceted questions within complex paradigms. Many will argue that these technologies and, concomitantly, social networking, are driving a change that is new and complex: complex perhaps but new, absolutely not. Andrew Marcinak explains:
Social networking is nothing new, just like incorporating tools into content-driven curriculum, the technology has evolved the game while maintaining the fundamentals. When I was in high school we were all part of a social network. We made fun of each other (wall posts), passed notes (private messages/DM), snuck out of our houses to meet up with girls/boys (texting), got in fights (cyber-bullying), talked about sex (sexting), drugs, and tried to keep ALL OF IT from our parents (facebook privacy settings).
Our classrooms have been fundamentally changed because the ‘game’ has evolved. Despite this, we don’t have to tear down the walls to connect with our new environment. We just have to stop pretending that the walls separate us from the world, and begin working with students in the pursuit of answers to real and relevant questions. We have to understand that, as Will Richardson states, “being a part of every day interactions that go beyond school walls has value in terms of how we help kids understand the world as it’s currently constructed.” In doing this, we in turn help kids make sense of who they are and what they are about.
However, and this is a big however, in the absence of some key learning characteristics within this new environment– technological literacy, self-direction, organizational skills and digital citizenship – our students still need the traditional mediators of knowledge: school based teachers and administrators. They need us to help them focus on the processes of learning, habits of mind, and life and workplace skills that they will require to be successful in the 21st century. We in turn need to engage each other in charting a course for learning knowing that the journey, like the best lesson plan ever written, will almost never go as planned. We need to move forward, transforming our delivery but not our core purpose: providing students with enriching experiences, positive reinforcement and enabling them to discover their own admirable purposes.
Educational change in Vancouver, like the rest of the world, is non-linear and complex. Progress will always be incremental, characterized more by starts and stops, messiness and redundancy rather than sequential efficiency. In order to cope with all of this, we need to continue designing, implementing and supporting multiple participation patterns and groups so that all within the ‘game’ can be part of a vibrant learning community. We do not need to have all the answers, but now more than ever it is critically important that the right questions be asked. Who are we? What is our fundamental purpose? What kind of learning community do we hope to become? What steps are we going to take and when will we take them? They are compelling questions that do not bind us to tradition but rather allow us to innovate, to be open-minded, to appreciate diversity and to increase our collaborative capacity.
Change is happening now and its significance to all of us, in the end, is captured beautifully by Terry Ainge in his winning tweet at #TEDxUBC, “Can we afford to wait for the next generation of educators to “be the change”? Tomorrow’s teachers are in our classrooms today!”