February 5, 2019

“No ‘advanced educator’ can allow themselves to be so absorbed in the question of what a child ought to be as to exclude the discovery of what he is.”
–Jane Addams

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about how the dominant operating system of education is broken. Over the next few Tuesday’s I will delve further into that topic and build on the good that can come out of replacing the old operating system of education.

One of the characteristics of the current, industrial-age operating system is despair. The high stakes accountability system that has been embedded into the operating system (much like a virus infects a computer, the high stakes accountability infected schools) has despair as its defining character trait. I only need to think about one of my own children as they cry from anxiety over taking a state (and federally) mandated test to know this indisputable fact. But we can also deconstruct this further. The children are reduced to a number they produce on a test. This is dehumanizing. Teachers are reduced to automatons regurgitating an approved curriculum while implementing it with “fidelity”. We know what fidelity means…following rules of implementation created by someone that has no idea about the local context of the school. This is de-humanizing to teachers. School administrators become effective paper pushers who are rewarded when they sublimate their creativity and blindly follow the protocols and procedures set forth by the State and Federal government. This de-humanizes administrators. The school board finds itself so boxed in by laws and regulations regarding curriculum, and teacher and administrator evaluation that their communities’ idiosyncrasies cannot be used to benefit children. This de-humanizes the school board.

We can build a better way.

As we build the new operating system of education, we make hope its defining characteristic. Hope becomes the motivating factor for all people (both children and adults) who interact within the new operating system. This occurs through empowerment. Hope is an aspiration feeling that occurs when people believe that things will get better and they have a say in the decision to get better. When we inculcate the new system with hope, students use a growth mindset as a lens for the work they are doing. They know the power of “not yet” as they strive to learn at their own pace in their own time. This empowers students. Teachers are emboldened to use their professionalism and experience to create learning opportunities that are relevant for students both academically and in their community. This empowers teachers. The school board will be able to strategically design a plan for their school and community based on the philosophy that their school system will be uncompromisingly learner centered. This empowers the school board. Looking into the future with excitement and joy will serve the new operating system of education well.

There are four questions that those of us involved in education can ask ourselves to transition into the new operating system.

  1. Do you believe the work you do gives hope to learners?
    This is simple…is what you are doing in your classroom, school or school district relaying a sense of hope to students. Period. Does what you are involved in in your classroom, school or school district create an atmosphere of dread and foreboding? If so, STOP DOING IT!!! Be the positive light for your students and schools.
  2. Who are you?
    Why did you get into the profession? Was it to give standardized tests that make students feel inferior? Was it to implement curriculum with fidelity? NO, IT WAS NOT. I imagine you got into the profession to help people. Always remember your original purpose. I suggest you to take the time to sit down and write down the reasons you wanted to become and educator, reconnect with that person!
  3. What do you believe?
    What do you believe about your students, school, and community? What do you believe about learning? Interrogate yourself to construct a statement about your beliefs.
  4. What are you afraid of?
    In stoic philosophy, practitioners often ask a variation of the question “What is the worst thing that will happen if I act/don’t act?” Oftentimes, by doing this exercise the worst thing is not as bad as you may have imagined. Of course, it helps if you have already deeply thought about the question #3.

Please comment on the blog and offer feedback!

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About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

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