My hero/guru/saviour dilemma.

I was all set to write a very reflective post about building community and making connections with educators this week. I still might. However, for the moment something else has cropped up that’s made me think about the bigger picture. As educators we can sometimes feel a bit under attack by the wider world. We are told we should be: teaching more phonics/being more creative, enforcing strict discipline/empowering students to make their own decisions, administering more standardised tests/engaging in more student led grading. There seems to be a set of polarities implying that whatever we’re doing is somehow wrong, depending on who you talk to and what their agenda for education is.

In the midst of all this we turn up to work every day, make decisions, build relationships, strive to create the very best conditions and opportunities for learning because we’re teachers. We don’t do this because we want our students to fail. We do this for any number of reasons, but I’d hazard a guess and suggest that right up at the top would be our belief in the importance of education for the good of society. We want good things both for each individual student and the world in which they live. It just sometimes seems that not everyone understands that’s where we’re coming from.

Today, Sir Ken Robinson was interviewed on a morning TV show. Now, I loved his TED talk when I first heard it a few years ago. I dutifully shared it with my colleagues and my wider networks, I felt all inspired about models of schooling and thinking differently about our system. Then I went to work, and I kept going to work and nothing much changed. I changed my practice, I changed aspects of practice in my school over which I have influence but it’s still a ‘factory model’ school. Students are still grouped by their ages, they still sit standardised tests, they are still taught mandatory curriculum content. What does this mean for the vision of creativity and wonder espoused by Sir Ken Robinson?

Today I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t change much. All he gave us was a vision. To my knowledge he’s given us none of the tools to get there nor even acknowledged the constraints under which we work. And to be honest why should he? It’s not his job, he seems to be doing very well out of the current situation, why risk that by setting up a model, trying it and potentially failing. No, that’s what he asks us to do, without any scaffold and without any hints as to what this vision might look like in reality.

The thing is that we (that’s all of us) are having a good shot at this ideal. We are exploring all sorts of different approaches that bring us ever closer to his vision. We are implementing approaches to teaching and learning that are student led, flexible, empowering. We are employing a raft of assessment strategies. We are encouraging our communities to get involved, to think critically about the sort of education they want for their child and to help us make it happen. The sad thing is, I don’t feel like any of this will ever be enough for him. We don’t operate inside a vacuum, but inside a system, inside a society that imposes conditions upon us and until Sir Ken gives us practical ways to make the sort of change he desires happen I’m going to stop listening to his talks. I am, however, going to keep building connections with educators who are taking risks, who aren’t scared of failing and who are working incredibly hard for their students.

What then is it that we get from our eduheros? As much as it pains me to say it, they give our work some validity. They make it easier to explain to parents why I’m asking students to make choices about their learning or why I’m allowing them to work collaboratively, or why I don’t do a weekly spelling test. The fact that this morning Ken Robinson was on a mainstream morning TV show may help parents understand why the way their child is being taught is so very different to the way they were taught. Maybe that’s enough from a hero/guru/saviour. Maybe making conversations easier, putting ideas out there and giving a context is really what we need. Maybe if he talks for long enough and often enough and to the right people the systemic change will happen, but that’s not my responsibility. For now, I reserve the right to hit the mute button every now and then.