The 2014 AIMS Technology Retreat is off to a terrific start with Grant Lichtman’s presentation about the challenges inherent in educational innovation and transformation. I’m attending this retreat with 150 tech leaders, librarians, administrators, and teachers representing more than 60 independent schools in the Washington, DC and Baltimore area.
Many of us think a good deal about how our schools might change and innovate. We consider how best to help our students make good use of their 21st Century access to vast amounts of knowledge. Most of us take seriously a new mission that requires us to enable students as they mold themselves into collaborators, dynamic learners, good problem solvers, and experiential learners. We also know that it’s critical to help them become confident enough to learn in a world that continuously changes (and at great speed).
This conversation is actually about becoming better progressive educators.
I began teaching in the mid-1970s when many educators were passionate about progressive education, and especially about the progressive educational philosophy of John Dewey. His many books and articles were required reading at the University of Chicago (UC), where I studied. Sometimes at the UC Friday afternoon gatherings where we sipped sherry while talking about education and change (in a room where Dewey himself once spoke with colleagues and students), it seemed as if his ghost was guiding the conversation.
What’s amazing, however, is that his books, Experience and Education and Democracy and Education, provide roadmaps for the innovations that need to occur today, despite the fact that they Dewey wrote and visioned long before the era of digital tools and connected information. But his ghost has been awfully quiet these past few years.
Two Dewey Quotes Serve as Guideposts in My Teaching Life
- Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
- If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday, we rob them of tomorrow.
With Grant Lichtman, who may just have been channeling Dewey, we spent much of the time imagining (or re-imagining) how the relationships between students and teachers are changing given that information today is so easy to access. In today’s world teachers’ lives are different because we no longer need to impart information — access to the knowledge is a given. So part of the innovation process for teachers is identifying ways to help students use information differently, perhaps learning to ask questions that will lead to gathering even more information and knowledge.
Lichtman had a great slide illustrating how schools need to evolve from an industrial model of education, where everyone learned one thing altogether at one time, to a new model which requires learners to work together, asking questions, figuring out solutions, and working with the assumption that they may never discover a single correct answer.
Innovation is scary. When we experiment with new ways of learning, we really don’t know what the outcome will be. And we might even fail when we try some of the new things. The key is to teach ourselves and our students that failure is OK — though that’s a huge change in thinking for students and parents … and schools. Interestingly, innovation that teaches students to persist, adapt, to view other perspectives, to think out of the box, and to be patient and listen to others, is a success even if the project itself is not.
Good Quotes from Grant Lichtman’s Presentation
- I cannot wait for the day when we stop labeling school tech people with edtech and call them teachers.
- School is no longer where we learn it’s where we gather and meet.
- Larger groups of students are able to learn different things at different times.
- Part of succeeding in today’s learning environment is innovating and doing so whether the outcome will be success or failure.
- Schools that innovate well reward courage, align resources with vision, develop people professionally and help them build a growth mindset, retool at the systems level, bust silos, and focus on value.
Professor Dewey’s ghost is surely watching, perhaps cheering us on or perhaps wringing his hands in frustration. How will we apply his progressive philosophy in a world where so many people still believe that we best learn by all doing the same thing at the same time?