The System

I’ve been spending a lot of time in professional development – in book studies, Twitter chats, reading and engaging with blogs, and talking with other teachers and ed tech coaches at events – and I’m really confused.

It seems like so much has changed in education and yet nothing has changed. We know better how students learn. The skills and demands that students will be expected to have are far different than those that existed when I went to school. Our world is much more connected. Technology and access to information inundates and sometimes overwhelms us. It can feel impossible to process all that information sometimes. And yet… I still walk into classrooms and see teachers refusing to let students engage with the world. I hear teachers tell students not to touch anything until they are given explicit instruction. I watch students puzzle and problem-solve on their own, but then shut down when forced to follow along step by step with a teacher or trainer. The thing is, adults feel safe when someone tells them what to do step by step. Kids don’t! Think of a toddler. How does he or she learn? A little boy puzzles over how to get the block into a hole; he tries several holes until he finds the shape that matches the block.

We want students to be problem solvers. We want them to be critical thinkers. Students no longer need us to TELL them what they need to know, we need to show them how to find the answers. We need to teach them HOW to assess and analyze the information they’re given. Students need to apply the knowledge they have in ways that are meaningful, make sense, challenge them.

Nothing is going to change in education until we – the system – changes. We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We have to be okay with giving up some control. We have to be alright with students exploring – and maybe stumbling upon something they shouldn’t. And when they do, we capitalize on that and use it as a teachable moment. If we only tell kids what NOT to do – and punish them when they make a mistake – how likely are they to actually try and innovate?

4 thoughts on “The System

  1. Angela Peery says:

    My observations in classrooms mirror yours. And, sadly, as a consultant, I’m in over 100 classrooms a year. Disheartening. School is still school — and I don’t mean that as a compliment. It hasn’t changed much since I was there, and I’m 52 years old.


  2. Nina says:

    Nice blog!

    Culture eats strategy. And one important part of changing the educational culture is to have teachers trained and educated in the “new’ way – I am obviously referring to learner-centered or learning-centered educational culture where learning process, curiosity, problem solving, etc. are valued over the performance measuring culture.

    Alas, most of the approximately 100 teachers I talk to every week keep telling me that their trainings and PDs are conducted with the old fashioned way, where information delivery equals teaching. I would like to challenge the idea that adults like to have step-by-step training. Some do, of course, but not everyone. (Kegan has such a nice theory of adult development, btw:

    Learner-centeredness is equally important for teachers as it is for students!



    • Allison K. says:

      Hi Nina! Thanks for checking out the blog. I agree, not all adults need/want step-by-step, but many of the teachers I work with are at that level in their learning. It’s a bit frustrating, because I know if I just let them struggle for a bit, they’d figure it out, and that learning would stick a lot more!
      We HAVE to change the way we “do” PD. We know it doesn’t work. We know it’s not effective.


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