We’ve been developing a program called Future Learning at work in some form over the last 3 years, and in its current incarnation for the last six months or so. It’s grown from a series of interesting workshops on disruption and innovation for school leaders to a full-blown planning process aimed at helping schools pull the emergency brake in order to consciously bring educational & cultural tradition, the demands of the present, and the opportunities of an informed extrapolation of the future into balance.
Our first school for 2016 has been a big, well-established secondary school in an old community – many of the students are the second generation of their family to attend, a reasonable contingent of the staff have been there for a long time, but it’s close enough to the centre of town that it’s an attractive location for younger teachers to want to work. Big, open facilities, nice campus, and from what I saw walking around the place, nice kids. The longevity of the teaching staff and the school’s place in the heart of its community made it no surprise that one of the very early things that came up in discussion when I met with their planning team was that really solid, caring relationships underpin the best of what they do, and that’s what makes the learning happen. Great place to start.
Nonetheless, the place felt tired. Really tired.
I won’t lie, they were a really tough group to get kicking along. There was a contingent of big-thinking early adopters in the room, but it didn’t come across as a group that took their ideas with any sense of urgency, or sadly a sense of efficacy to realise those ideas.
We spent a day exploring global megatrends, big directions in the growth of technology in education, the opportunities & challenges for the present and future that they posed, and the power of design thinking methodology – but for the most part, it didn’t interest them. The mood was downtrodden, locked in by systemic pressures in the form of prescriptive, content-heavy new curriculum and strict education department rules and limitations.
Excitement about the future was not exactly flowing freely.
That said, a few gems did emerge. The school motto spoke of aspiration and innovation. There was interest in making learning more real and authentic, and they recognised the role of curriculum integration in that. They loved the idea of students consuming less and creating more. They liked the idea of activating underperforming spaces in the school to make more lively use of them.
So I took these, and clung to them. These came from a side of this group that often gets forgotten in the day-to-day buzz of a busy school. They came from the minds of big, purpose-driven educators, keenly in touch with their deep-seated philosophy for education.
I needed a way to bridge the gap between these educators in touch with their heartfelt reasons for doing what they do, and these teachers who had the day-to-day pressures of working in a busy school to contend with.
I’ve been reading an incredible book called Building School 2.0 – How to Create the Schools We Need by Chris Lehmann & Zac Chase. It does a fantastic job of calling out counterproductive habits of schools by proposing smart, positive, contemporary ways to approach designing our schools and their habits.
The one that really stood out was the proposition to stop “admiring the problem.” Stop getting hung up on the (often temporary or trivial) things that get in our way, and deciding to achieve our goals anyway. Yes, when you say it like that it sounds like it should be a meme on a picture of a sunrise. When you put it into practice, it looks a whole lot more useful.
We took each of those three big ideas, and listed every reason we could come up with as to why it wouldn’t work. Got them all out in the open, and I scribed them onto the big screen.
Their concerns were pretty sound. Yes, time is always an issue. So is funding. Of course students can be unpredictable and faculties have egos. Convincing the reticent is never easy, change is uncomfortable, and sometimes the wifi network flakes.
But authentic things that foster student curiosity and initiative, real stuff that makes students aspire to do big things, to think outside the box and to be successful? That’s why we keep turning up year after year.
By taking them through this process, I put the profession-focused, philosophically-oriented side of these educators in direct opposition to the procedural, systemically compliant side in discussion of their students’ futures. The big worthy goals were of course deemed more powerful, more important, and more worthy of theirs and their students’ attention.
Here’s where we went next, with that shift in which side of their educator persona was in the driver’s seat.
With any luck and some hard work & staying power on their part, I’ve hopefully awoken a bit of this in them. Chris, Zac – thanks fellas.