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Three Questions for Educating In Our Times
It was an honor to be a part of the National Principals Leadership Institute in New York and to have an opportunity to speak at the renowned Lincoln Center Walter Reade Theater. The issues of the institute, the structure of ideas that I shared, and your continued conversations are exactly what we need to be about in this time, with this goal, and become these kinds of leaders.
You discussed three questions which I think are core for every education leader today in every country, and I would like to share my insights here as a possible resource as you continue your explorations.
- How would they describe the times we live in?
This is a tough one. If we were faced with one over arching factor that was influencing our times, like a great depression or a hundred thousands soldiers returning home to continue their lives, it would be easy compared to a time when the only thing that we can rely on is change.
From an educator's perspective, change can provide a useful target for aiming our efforts. But one area of change is especially impactful on what we do and how we do it. It is easy for us, who grew up without computers and the Internet, to believe that it is technology that we need to integrate. However, it is not the tech that influences what we, as educators do, nearly so much as how the nature of information has changed. The information that we use on a daily basis to accomplish our goals is increasingly networked, digital, and abundant (overwhelming). These three brand new qualities of information have a profound influence on schooling.
- In light of that what are the implications for schools?
The key guiding question that we face today is, "What do our children need to be learning today to be ready for an unpredictable future?" For the first time in history, we as educators are preparing our children for a future we can not clearly describe. We have always had a good idea of what our children will be doing ten years from now, twenty years, and even thirty years from now. Today, that has changed. Clarence Darrow said,
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
Our students need to be able to adapt to changing times. But that does not go far enough. Our children need to be able to harness change, to leverage it for advancement, prosperity, and happiness.
Thomas Friedman, in The World is Flat, says that there are four types of people who will do well in an increasingly flattening world. It will be people who touch you or something you own (your barber, chief, or dentist), people who are special (Michael Jordan), people who are specialized (able to make themselves a specialist), and people who can learn, unlearn, and relearn. It is the last two that we need to be graduating from our schools, and the bottom line is that we need to teach them how to teach themselves.
Our classrooms need to become learning gardens, but gardens without borders. We should stop thinking of the classroom wall, the school campus, and the last bell to ring as where the learning stops. We need to learn to break down those barriers and expect and empower the learning to continue well beyond the time and place of our formal education practices. We need to redefine homework and encourage our students to collaborate in their learning inside and outside of their classrooms. We need to assure that their are learning from networked, digital, and abundant information and that we expand our notions of literacy to reflect that information environment, that
- Being able to expose what is true in the information we encounter is as critical as being able to read it.
- Being able to work the numbers that define all digital information today to add value to that information is as critical as being able to add, subtract, count, measure, and calculate.
- Being able to express ideas compellingly with text, image, video, audio, and animation, are as critical as being able to write a coherent paragraph.
- What kind of leadership do we need?
This is a complicated question. But I would factor it down to two areas of concentration. We live in a time of rapid change and many of us are threatened by the insecurity that change leaves. But the upside of change, what we receive for our insecurity is opportunity
. The school leader in a time of rapid change, is someone who knows how to identify and leverage opportunity. They need to be able to find opportunity in the environment of the learning, in the resources that are available, and in the unique talents of his or her teachers.
The other area is that learning
has come to mean much more in schools than the teaching. The social writer and philosopher, Eric Hoffer says that,
In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.
Since so much changes, what our students learn has become less important than how they learn it -- so schools need to develop a culture of learning. The school leader needs to present himself or herself as a learner. The leader needs to hire teachers and staff who are learners. The conversations that happen in school, in front of students or in the faculty meeting must include what we've been learning, even if it does not pertain to instruction. Teachers should celebrate their own learning, even to the point of having a bulletin board devoted to what they are learning about what they passionately love -- not what they've learned, but what they are learning.