Change is the opportunity to do something amazing
– George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset
In the book The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros talks about the very real possibility that schools will become obsolete if we educators don’t figure out how to align our practice to a rapidly changing world. No, we educators don’t have to change, but if we don’t, we may become irrelevant.
I never thought about it before, but Couros makes an interesting point: No teacher can be expected to create content that is as valuable and as effective what can easily be found online. Sure, we can be dynamic speakers, and we can even make a video or two, but if my students want to learn about a novel, John Green’s Crash Course video series will always be impossibly more entertaining and informative than I am. Interested in grammar rules? No Red Ink and Grammarly have it covered. What if increasing your vocabulary is your goal? Vocabulary.com.
I’m exaggerating a bit. It isn’t as bleak as all that. Most students I know don’t regularly traverse the Internet in order to fine-tune the skills demanded by the Common Core State Standards. They still need teachers. Added to that, students crave human interaction. Just like we do. If we make our classes engaging and collaborative, we are still so-much better than anything offered with technology alone.
That said, teachers should embrace Web 2.0 tools and online resources, and we must expect students to do the same. There is no reason to continue with a traditional “sit and get” teaching strategies when we know that is not how reasonable, connected people learn these days. When people want to know something or even how to do something, they look it up online. Students aren’t any different. Why should schools pretend this is not a reality?
A Personal Example of Personalized Learning
I just went thought a personal learning experience that I think is relevant to this discussion. It has nothing to do with school but a lot to do with learning.
My husband and I inherited a mid-century, Danish-modern dining set, including a table and four chairs. To help you visualize, the chairs look a bit like the ones displayed HERE. We’ve been using the set for almost twenty years know—remember, it was old when we got it–and the cording on the chairs has started to unravel.
My first thought was that I would search online for someone to fix my chairs. I only found two people in my area: One charged $300 per chair and another charged $350. Quick math: That’s almost $1000 bucks!
Well, I thought, maybe I can fix the chairs myself. But, I am not handy. My husband is not handy. I would describe us more as bookish types. Home ownership has been a strain.
A cursory online search led me to a detailed blog about restoring the exact same kind of chairs. From Mid-Mod Collective, I learned two things: First, it is possible for a regular person to do this. Second, I figured out what materials I would need to purchase.
Next, with very little effort, I found a high-quality video by a Mr. Edward Hammond. I watched the video and thought, “This is possible…”
Fast-forward a couple of weeks: The materials, including 40 pounds of Danish cord, a tad puller, two packs of L-shaped upholstery nails, and upholstery tacks, all ordered online, had arrived. I finally had a free Saturday. Time to give it a try.
Using my iPad to watch, rewatch, and pause tEd Hammond’s YouTube video, I managed a pretty good restoration of one of our chairs in just under seven hours. While it isn’t perfect, I can definitely sit in the chair without falling through the bottom. And, I learned enough from my mistakes to say I won’t make them again on my next chair.
What does all of this have to do with education? I basically did what I want my students to do: 1) Ask questions. 2) Research. 3) Apply the knew knowledge. 4) Fail. 5) Get feedback. 6) Try again.
That fail part might sound hash, but to me it’s liberating. No one is good at something without practice. Let’s all get over ourselves.
Of course, I did have a teacher (Mr. Hammond of YouTube), and I got some emotional support and feedback from my husband who was sitting typing his own blog on the couch.
I allowed myself to take a risk, and I did not expect perfection the first time around. Plus, I saved myself about $270 for the one chair.
George Couros writes, “Change is the opportunity to do something amazing.” Yes, I can see that, but we won’t be amazing every single time we try something new. When I think of change in education I think more of how it is an opportunity to take risks, to fail, and to learn and grow. Once in a while, we might just be amazing.
Of course, not changing carries even greater risks. If we continue to teach the way we were taught, using the systems first implemented 60 or 70 or 80 (or more?!) years ago, not only will we educators feel bored and stagnant, students will not be prepared for the world the way it actually functions today.
So, let’s go ahead and get out of our comfort zones. Expect failure. Learn from it. Move on.