• Janelle Safford

The Need For Change


Sir Ken Robinson states that “we need revolution not evolution” when considering the change necessary to promote personalized learning in our current education system.

This statement is incredibly accurate. Urgent education reform is needed to improve the culture and learning environment in most public schools today. The standard, factory style approach to education is producing an outdated product. The irony is that the even the actual factories have improved and evolved dramatically throughout the last century. We would never consider relying on a Model T Ford manufacturing facility from 1917 to produce the fuel efficient, convenient, technology rich vehicles of today. The product would not be acceptable for the personalized demands that modern customers take for granted when deciding on options and features in cars today. So why are we still running students through an education system whose success depends on every student learning in the exact same way at the same time regardless of individual needs and preferences?

Robinson also states that “Innovation is hard because it challenges what we take for granted or think is obvious.” Our students deserve better than the “easy, we have always done it that way” attitude that many of today’s view teaching and learning.

So, how do you change the system? To be honest I am not sure. I do know that the conversations that we are having in this class as well as many other teachers and school leaders are having about improving student learning is a good place to start. When I read and hear messages like Mr. Robinson’s TED Talk, I am both encouraged and overwhelmed. Encouraged by the possibility of true change in the system and overwhelmed by how much needs to be done.

I think forward thinking teachers and school leaders are definitely on the right track just by having the conversations and sharing experiences with each other. Another ironic twist in the evolution of today’s education system is that while technological advances have made personalized student learning even more possible, it is the same technology that is making it possible for educators to share these ideas and practices with each other.

I try to constantly draw parallels about the way I learn in my own life to how our students should be learning. My primary mode for learning anything new, both formally and informally, is done through using technology. I am constantly reading, collecting ideas and communicating on my computer. However, there are so many other ways that I shape the tools all around me to create convenient, relevant learning opportunities. I read on my Kindle, listen to Audible and Spotify, shop on Amazon and Ebay, listen to podcasts through apps, create many resources for others using my laptop, use my navigation system to learn unfamiliar areas, watch my favorite show later by using a digital recording system, stream entertainment in real time, use YouTube to learn how to do something, communicate with friends and co-workers by texting and using Voxer...the list could go on and on. The interesting thing is that these things all happen seamlessly and I am in control of when and how to use them. We should be providing a similar experience for our students!

I think part of the problem is that schools tend to have a very narrow view of success. Most schools value students that can take in information and regurgitate it on a test for a grade. If a student is consistently good at this, they are celebrated and recognized as being successful. If a student does not learn this way and questions the validity of this type of instruction they are deemed "trouble makers". These students typically do not "go with the flow" and demand (usually by acting out) that teachers also meet their needs. When teachers do not understand how to meet the needs of nontraditional learners they categorize them as "problems". I think schools need to reconsider what is celebrated as success. We should be focusing on teaching students to adapt and learn quickly, think critically, question ideas, communicate and innovate. Until teachers and school leaders embrace this new way of educating our students, we will continue to churn out "learning clones".

I think what is happening is schools and leaders do not know what to do with the data they collect so they think collecting more data is the answer. Instead, they should be taking the "now what" approach. Data is only information. There is no need to gather information if you do not know what to do with the information. The data is the easy part, analyzing it and deciding the best way to address the information gathered is the hard part. I agree that if teachers are passionate about learning, students will be also. So what is the answer when you have a school full of teachers that are not passionate about learning or teaching?? I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know that I see it everyday.

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