We Just Can’t Keep Up…

TED is awesome…  I recently watched a TED talk by Eddie Obeng  who spoke about our fast changing world.  His central focus was the idea that the pace at which the world is advancing is exponential whereas the pace of learning and education is and has been consistent.  Schools are improving – we just can’t keep up.

Consequently, educators are feverishly looking for ways to make schools once-again interesting for kids.

One of my favorite progressive educational leaders and thinkers is Sir Ken Robinson @SirKenRobinson.  He gave a TED talk in 2006 that has since been viewed by over 16 million people.  He is an advocate for fostering creativity in children because in the end, it will be creativity that solves the problems of tomorrow.  His concern (shared by many) is that our school systems and institutions are designed around conformity, greatly reducing the ability of educators to foster creativity.

(On a side note, the Common Core Standards have the concept of “creativity” speckled throughout.  Ironic that we have come to a point at which we have had to develop a standard that requires us to teach creativity.)

In his follow up talk four years later he speaks about the continued need for educational change.  He advocates not for reformation, but transformation, not for the next educational evolution, but revolution.  We cannot simply flip a classroom, develop a new course, implement an iPad 1:1, or create curriculum alignment to standards.  Each of those ideas has merit, not one of them is the solution.  These “next great initiatives” are consistently met with institutional and bureaucratic barriers, ones that we unfortunately both create and foster.

I believe that educators can create the answer.  We can keep up if we break down some of those institutional barriers and innovative collaboration is the key.

google 20 percent time

Enter Google’s 20% time – Inspired by Sergey Brin’s and Larry Page’s Montessori School experience, is a philosophy and policy that every Google employee spend 20% of their time (the equivalent of a full work day each week) working on ideas and projects that interest that employee. They are encouraged to explore anything other than their normal day-to-day job. As a result 50% of all Google’s
products by 2009 originated from the 20% free time, including Gmail. (Katherine von Jan – Huffington Post, Education, 10/24/11)

What if we allowed encouraged this concept among our teachers?

One-fifth of all professional development time, school improvement days, in-service days, etc…were dedicated to teacher directed ideas…  In-turn, teachers could make this a reality in their classrooms –The equivalent of one school day a week, we would encourage students to direct their own learning…  (A great article on why we should use the 20% time in the classroom.)

I know of teachers who have attempted this but have been met with educational leaders who either disagreed with or misunderstood the concept.  To make it happen, curriculum has to change, teachers and students have be excited about the possibilities, and parents need to be informed.  We certainly need parameters and guidelines – the key to the success of the 20% concept is in the group and personal accountability for time, effort, and product.

In Daniel Pink’s @DanielPink, Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he speaks to three main principles: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.  People (students and educators) are motivated not by rewards or punishment.  We thrive when we are given choice in pursuing our passions.  Give our teachers and students the autonomy to choose, to direct their learning – and then get out of their way!

What do you think?

  • What passions and interests do you the educator have?  Your students?
  • What would prevent you from making the 20% time a reality for your school or classroom?
  • How can educational leaders foster an environment where teachers are encouraged to develop innovative ideas around their areas of passion and interest?

One Final Thought…

George Couros @gcouros wrote a blog post yesterday talking about “Dead-end Leaders”.  You know these kinds of leaders – approached by their excited, innovative workers with a new idea… and are met with a simple “no”.   Let’s encourage those types of leaders to leave schools – go to the business world.  Our kids cannot afford that type of leadership – preventing teacher directed innovation – educating kids is just too important.

We can’t get the job done through systems of bureaucracy.  If we want to truly make a difference, we need to encourage, empower, and expect innovative and creative ideas in education.  It is our only chance if we hope to keep up with the fast changing world our kids are living in.


2 thoughts on “We Just Can’t Keep Up…

  1. I think the idea of 20% time fits perfectly into the classroom. We already know students are more motivated by choice — what if we give them the choice to discover learning in an area that interests them? From my own experience trying this out on a small scale, it’s important to teach the students how to set goals and monitor their progress — this shouldn’t be a totally hands-off experience — but kids being self-motivated to pursue their own learning? What could be more valuable?

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