How School Leaders Can Update Education in Your School

If Your Phone gets an Update, Why Not Education?

I call my son my personal philosopher.  Over the years, he has stopped me in my tracks with his simple statements that really make you think.  In one instance, I asked him when he got home from school whether or not he had fun at school.  He said “No”.  I then asked him, “isn’t learning fun?” and he said “Dad, learning is fun, school isn’t”.  That statement was five years ago and he is now in third grade and loves school (and learning).   

A few years ago as my son was playing Minecraft he started to tell me about the next Minecraft update.   He was so excited about what he heard was included in the next update that he told me in detail how the game was going to be improved.  As he was talking, he looked at my iPhone and proceeded to tell me about all of the cool new features that were included in the latest IOS update for my phone.  This conversation with my son made me realize two things.  First, kids growing up today are incredibly immersed in a system where updates occur automatically with the expectation that the product will improve, and second, we need to “upgrade” education.

Updating in Today’s World

It is cliché to say that kids today are “technology natives”; of course they are technology natives, their entire lives have been immersed in rapid advancements in technology. As I watch and listen to my son I realize that there are implications to his immersion in technology that have implications for society and learning.  First, “updating” something is second nature for him.  He does not consider “updating” to include buying something new (unless the device will not support the update, but that is another topic).  Rather, updating is something that happens periodically to improve the quality of the game, device, or tool that you are using. 

In the past “updates” did not occur as quickly, thus one had to wait until a “new” product was introduced to the marketplace before you “updated”.  Rapid innovation and iterations of products are now so sudden that “updating” occurs several times a month in some cases.  My son expects his games and devices to be improved (for free).  Constant updating also sets the stage for him to think about updates that he would like to see in his life.  He and I will discuss his ideas for updates and try to guess whether or not his ideas will be included in the next update.  This constant iteration of products and services is an expectation for him. His entire school experience has been in a technology-drenched world.

Updating Education

I am now going to shift focus to our education system.  When was the last major “update” in our educational system; if you could travel back in time to a high school in the 1920’s would it look appreciably different than a high school today?   Sure, there may be flashy technology in today’s high school but the structure of the system has not changed since the 19th century. Think about it.  One hundred years ago students were put in rows and listened to a “sage on the stage” tell them what is important and why they need to “hear” it.  Students were processed through an educational factory system by their “date of manufacture” (grade levels determined by age) in the exact same fashion as students are today.  Although I can start to see hints of radical structural change in our schools (Mass Customized Learning is a great example), in the vast majority of cases there has not been significant changes in our learning delivery system…an upgrade is needed. 

I am excited that we are in a place in time in education where we can change the system’s structures to meet the needs of today’s learners.  School leaders can glimpse into the future and adjust the system to meet the needs of future learners.   I believe we can update our learning system for students.  Conversations in education now center on how to have instruction that will “meet” the students at their interest and ability level as well as instruction tailored to their learning style.  To radically update the system, professional educators will combine their experience and expertise to create learning environments that break down the 19th century learning model.  I know we can (and must) make these changes.

5 Ways to Start Updating Education

  1. Become a learning organization. Set the example in your school by learning something new about the future EVERY DAY. Learn about trends in society, science and education. In 10 minutes you can learn a lot. If you don’t know where to start, click here. Do more than set an example, encourage people to learn more about their profession and the future. Have conversations, conduct book studies…just engage with your people!
  2. Empower. Empower yourself, empower your staff and empower your learners. Empowering means that you may have to give up some control…and that’s ok! A great leader lets their ego go and concerns themselves with helping their employees. Remember, it’s not about you, Mr. and Ms. School Leader!
  3. Create a vision of the ideal learning experience. In the best of all possible worlds, what is the best learning experience for your students and school? Go ahead, map it out, dream big! Once you have your vision, share it with others, Change it, add to it and make it better as you share.
  4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Your vision of the ideal learning experience says a lot about who you are…don’t be afraid to share your vision with all stakeholders. Create a communication strategy that will ensure all stakeholders are aware of your vision. be bold!
  5. Create Content. Create a blog where you can share your thoughts, successes and near misses with everyone in your community. Content can include blog posts, video blogs, Twitter or Facebook posts, Instagram or other social media posts, case studies, and even e-books. By creating content you are positioning your vision (and your district) to be “top of mind” for all relevant stakeholders.

Remember, starting something new is the most courageous step in the change process!

About 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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