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.

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8 thoughts on “My hero/guru/saviour dilemma.

  1. It is always up to the people on the building site to make the architect’s dream come true. But I see your point, Michelle. The architect hasn’t given us any plans to follow. Its a good thing that we have a wonderful curriculum to know what we need our students to do and where they need to be heading with regard to skills and capabilities. I think that together as a network we are doing a pretty good job of helping each other to think of ways to do this to help our students to be active, engaged learners. The old staleness is being cleaned out and exciting new fresh ideas are being encouraged. Not everyone will ‘get’ it but at least by us trying to make improvements the students are benefitting.

  2. An interesting post with many good points that I agree with. Sir Ken’s vision is so difficult to implement especially when decision makers are driven by testing as the main judgement of a school’s success. Until we stop seeing NAPLAN, PISA and other standardised tests as the measure of learning we will be stuck in the factory model. When a govt says their goal for education is top 5 on a PISA League Table I lose some hope for change.
    But!!! What I do know is that as educational leaders we can implement change regardless of politicians and put kids at the centre of learning in our schools. Education ministers will come and go. We will push through and be the difference for kids.

  3. Well-written, Michelle. As a PST, I initially found myself swept away by the futuristic promises proffered by educational “greats”. It has only been on my entry to classes as a practicum student and volunteer that I have seen the ramifications of government policy which has mandated the stifling of any short-term implementation of futuristic promises. As you have noted, what has inspired and excited me the most has been connecting with brilliant and engaged pedagogues at the coalface. Your real-time advances are being noted… and appreciated.

  4. A more sceptical reply: If schools are going to do their bit in helping to build a more thoughtful world, the people exercising the most influence in education need to display exemplary levels of thoughtfulness. Now, Sir Ken does say a few things that can be perceived as inspiring – he does have a vision of sorts – but where is that depth of thought?

    What surprises and disturbs us is how positively people in the teaching business have responded to the shallow narrative about the factory schooling of the past and the horticultural personalised learning of the future. That narrative involves ignoring the radical anti-industrialist movements of the past, and ignoring how nicely a certain kind of personalisation dovetails beautifully with the latest phase of industrialisation.

    In a number of posts we have tried to indicate the superficiality of Sir Ken’s thinking. The one below looks at the key ideas in the Element books:

    http://www.digitalcounterrevolution.co.uk/2013/ken-robinson-the-element-the-iron-cage/

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