Discussions around the need for change within our education system have existed for decades, and while we see pockets of innovation in some parts of our system, the status quo has persisted in the main. The global COVID-19 pandemic has pulled back the curtain on what our kids are doing at school and exposed weaknesses in many of the philosophical understandings that guide our work (both explicitly and implicitly), and in the structures and processes that define how we work with our students and the expectations we have of them etc. It has caused many educators, parents and administrators to ask the big questions about how our kids are really doing.
I recently participated in the online Deep Learning Lab run by CORE Education – a fabulous event featuring keynote presentations by Dr Mag Gardner and Dr Jean Clinton, both part of the global NPDL team based in Canada. With participants from across New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and the US, the focus of discussion was on the intersection of two key areas – Deep Learning and Wellbeing – with an inevitable application of this thinking to the current circumstances across the globe of schools adjusting to life after (and in some cases, still in) lockdown. Amid this discussion the frequent references to equity, quality, agency and leadership (to name a few) were never far from the surface – and often viewed with a ‘fresh perspective’ based on the experiences of school closures in each country.
In his contribution to the conference, Michael Fullan challenged us to think of the current crisis with a hopeful perspective, and to regard this as the opportunity of the century.
Fullan argues that, particularly in developed nations, education has stalled and that as a consequence there is a pent-up energy for innovation that needs to be released in a positive direction.
This involves engagement with Deep Learning and with a strong focus on Wellbeing – both of students and of educators.
Of course, a conference like the Deep Learning Lab where the delegates are, to some extent or other, already motivated to be a part of such change the experience can simply become a sort of ‘echo chamber’ for hearing and agreeing with the opinions and perspectives of others who think like you. In terms of what was being discussed at this conference there is a whole other group of people (educators, parents, community members) who would disagree Fullan’s analysis; who are not at all convinced there is a need to change and who are quite happy with the status quo – but they weren’t there.
The challenge we have then is to deeply understand what is driving the desire or demand for innovation, and to bring these perspectives to the table for more rigorous debate and engagement – and action!
So what are the arguments for a change in the way we think about school, and in particular, about why we need to innovating in teaching and learning? In pondering this I was reminded of a talk by David Istance from the Brookings Institute (and previously with the OECD) titled “research on international pedagogy” that he presented at the 2018 iNACOL conference in Nashville.
In his talk Istance references the longitudinal work of the OECD on innovative pedagogies for powerful learning, and focuses at one point on the question “why innovate teaching and learning?”. His five key points are illustrated to the left – and you can view the segment of his talk where he references these below.
My reason for linking these three ideas in this post – the Deep Learning/Wellbeing nexus, the opportunity created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the research base of the OECD’s work on innovative pedagogy – is simply this; as we move forward in these uncertain times, often with increased feelings of anxiety and concern for the wellbeing of our learners, let us not forget that there is already a wealth of understanding, research and experience out there that we can tap into to help us make sense of what just happened as we found ourselves working remotely with our learners – or as parents, found ourselves having to more deeply engage with our children as both learners and as growing human beings with curious minds and the same range of emotional responses to the circumstances we are in as we do.
There’s been plenty of research around the phenomenon of what happens when we find ourselves faced with challenging circumstances and little time to reflect before acting – too often we find ourselves falling back into patterns of behaviour that we experienced in the past, rather than calling upon the wisdom of others and the research that informs our work.
My plug therefore in this post is, as we reflect on the experiences of lockdown – and for some, face the prospect of further lockdowns – let’s not fall into the trap of making simple judgements about the efficacy of the responses that were made based purely on anecdote and narratives tinged by the emotion of the moment. As important as it is to acknowledge these things as a very real part of the response that was made, the value of reflection is on matching this against the depth of research and informed thinking that we have available to us, and to use this to help us shape the sorts of experiences we want to create for our learners, treating them as whole people whose wellness is just as important as their cognitive development, and whose future will inevitably be very different to anything we’ve experienced or can perhaps imagine.
Let’s not short-change our kids by short-cutting our reflection and evaluations of what happened during the pandemic to drive quickly toward a way of working that makes us, as educators, feel comfortable. If you’re not deeply engaged with the sorts of questions raised by David Istance, or challenged by the assertions of Michael Fullan – then you should be. We all should be. Or we risk letting this opportunity pass and denying yet another generation of learners in our schools the opportunity to learn in ways that our own research is suggesting is important for us to embrace.
The time is now to begin innovating in teaching and learning – across our whole system!