Are Ideals Really Ideal? (Finding Common Ground)

 
‘Nepal – Embraced by Shangrila’ creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by dhilung: http://flickr.com/photos/dhilung/3904555723
This post was originally posted on +Peter DeWitt‘s Finding Common Ground blog on the 6th of January. It seems with the latest changes to the Performance and Development Process and +Will Richardson‘s message in his #TL21C Keynote to change just 10% of your practise pertinent to repost it here.
Recently, as a part of the Ed Tech Crew Christmas Hangout, +Darren Murphy posed the question, what would your ideal school be? It got me wondering, what does the talk of ideals really achieve?
Often discussions about the ideal school converge with the amalgamation of a diverse range of ideas and practises. Where there is not only a wide range of technology on offer, but it is ubiquitous. Where connections are made around the world. Where students are creators of original content that is published for authentic audiences. Where learning happens in open and flexible spaces, which have the ability to be manipulated to suite a range of needs and purposes. Where teachers are seen as lead-learners, that is facilitators and motivators who help students to manage their own learning. Where learning happens when it needs to happen, not necessarily when it is forced to happen. Whatever is included within this educational cocktail, it can just about be guaranteed that it is not usually found within the dominant status quo.
What was interesting about the responses from the various participants was that no one had actually experienced their ideal school. Although everyone had seen aspects of such learning, with different schools showing strengths in various areas, no one had actually witnessed the magical Shangri-la, that ideal school that encapsulates everything. What then is the purpose of such ideals? If they are lists of attributes that never actually exist in their entirety, what purpose do they serve? Should ideals be our barometer, our measuring stick of success or are they more a point of inspiration, those ideas that drives us towards greater things?
I came upon a great quote in my feed the other day from Rebekah O’Dell who said that, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” I think that this is a really good point. We should never limit our dreams. However, what are the use of dreams and ideals if all they do is set us up for perpetual failure? I am not saying that failure is a bad thing, but surely if there is little hope of success, isn’t it a little counter-productive.
Although it is important to dream and dream big, at some point our efforts need to turn to finding pragmatic solutions for the now. They need to be ideas and initiatives that respond to the problem at hand. Instead of calling for a revolution, our attention should be on how we can evolve education one change at a time.
Sometimes our desire to change education is beyond our means. Whether it be because we are not a part of leadership, there are no funds to support such a change, it does not fit within the school’s annual implementation plan, the list goes on. The challenge for us in this situation is often how we actually respond, just as much as what our eventual response is. Instead of baulking at the challenge, one answer is to break the problem down into its parts. In doing so, it is important to look at what it is that is trying to be evolved and consider whether there is anything that we can do to get one step closer towards our ideal.
Take for example the ideal of the global classroom, an environment where teachers and students connect and collaborate with others all over the world. For some this is a choice out of reach based on various decisions, whether it be because of the policy of the school, lack of resources or the need to get permission of parents. However, what is possible is to create a means to collaborate within school, creating space to share and celebrate outside of the classroom, providing staff and students with opportunity to learn together, whether it be across different year levels or learning areas. Although this may not be flattening the walls globally, it at least flattens the walls locally.
What is important in turning an ideal into some sort of reality is setting goals. A good criteria to support the development of goals is the SMART acronym. That is that the goal is specific, able to be measured, actually attainable, realistic and is bound by time. Associated with this, it is important to make explicit any steps, strategies and speed humps at the start, as well as reflect upon any failures and celebrate the successes along the way.
For instance, last year, having read quite a few people share about the successes associated with project-based learning, I really wanted to trial it in my class. So after looking at all the subjects that I taught, I decided that it would fit best with my Digital Publishing Elective, particularly in regards to the development of the school yearbook. From this point of view, focusing on a certain unit of work within a particular class meant that it fitted with all the different attributes of a SMART goal. In addition to this, choosing a subject where I was the sole teacher allowed me to easily manage the strategies and speed humps, as well as clearly manage the celebrations and reflections.
Not all change needs to be linked to a revolution, take for example +Pernille Ripp‘s fantastic list of simple ideas of how to re-energise the classroom after the break. With the new year having just rolled over, what is your educational resolution this year? What is something that you feel needs to change in education and what steps are you taking to change it?

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Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator supporting schools with the integration of technology and pedagogical innovation. I have an interest in how together we can work to make a better world.

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Are Ideals Really Ideal? (Finding Common Ground) by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

1 thought on “Are Ideals Really Ideal? (Finding Common Ground)

  1. Hello Aaron,

    Thanks for (re)posting. Here are some of my thoughts…..

    I resonate with your question, “What would your ideal school be?” Where I work we are asking, “What is great learning?” and ‘What will that look like in your dream schools, five years from now?” It has engaged teachers and leaders in deep conversations. Generally, they dare to dream but quickly refer to the limitations and restrictions of mandate requirements for schooling of today. I am trying to pull together some thoughts in response to this process but also to publish via my blog.

    I sense the greatest challenge is supporting your dream school….. “Where teachers are seen as lead-learners, that is facilitators and motivators who help students to manage their own learning.” This requires teachers to unlearn and relearn their role. In fact, it requires governments and Education Systems to change their thinking from ‘schooling’ for tests to ‘learning’ for life. This allows teachers to co-create work with students based on their interests and future needs.

    I really like the thinking….. “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” This is similar thinking to Jim Collins, “Good to Great”. I really like the thinking but the reality it, education generally is happy with ‘good’ and ‘safe’ and easily measurable goals.

    I like setting goals, both personally and professionally. I work with school leaders in developing their school goals after exhaustive processes. I have some questions about the “M” of SMART goals; that is, goals that are “able to be measured”. Is this the reason we tend to shy away from measuring ‘critical thinking’, ‘creativity’ or ‘collaboration’? Is this the reason the schools goals can more readily revert to the ‘measurables’ of moving cohort literacy and numeracy levels or HSC scores? I believe that all students need to be literate and numerate, but when is someone ‘literate’ and ‘numerate’? Once a student has achieved an acceptable level of literacy and numeracy, how much more ‘literate’ and ‘numerate’ does someone need to be before we encourage them to engage in self-directed interest projects that may better promote the higher order thinking skills required to develop ‘critical thinking’, ‘creativity’ and ‘collaboration’? I sometimes think that a commitment to ensure goals are measurable, usually with quantitative measures, can ‘dumb us down’ and limit the thinking and dreaming about great learning.

    In our dreaming for schools and learning, let us dream big and dream for a future that may rely less of data and statistics and a little more on the discerning judgment of the teachers and leaders who we need to trust more to ensure quality learning in all our schools.

    Regards
    Greg

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