This year I will embark on new journey in my professional life. Though I’ve tried to keep growing and developing as an educator at my now previous school, the wonderful Brigidine College, St Ives, the changes have been within a familiar and comfortable context. I added new aspects to my practice, took on new challenges both within and outside the classroom. Each year I sought something new or different so that I didn’t become stale or rigid in how I thought about things. It truly is so easy to roll on year after year using the same approach that we know ‘works’ (ie doesn’t rock the boat and gets ‘results’ we are happy with) rather than reflecting on how we do what we do.
Many extrinsic factors affect how we approach our practice. Many studies have shown the impact of phenomena such as standardised testing and/or public publication of school results. The trouble is, if we as educators allow too many extrinsic influences be the driving force behind our decisions and practice, we lose any kind of intrinsic motivation to amplify the learning our students experience. In a world where students can and are starting to discover that learning can take place listening to a podcast from Harvard or a video from Kahn Academy, or where a Skype conversation with a student in a country you are studying can be more stimulating than reading an article from a newspaper, or that the device in their hands gives them more access to information than their teacher can provide without the same device in hand, we must be prepared to offer something more than what was given to us at university, more than what was given to us in our own school experience, more than what students can access for free in their own time. I truly believe that schools which seek to only educate for the world in which they were established will cease to exist by the time I retire.
We need to start questioning everything. There must be no sacred cows. Even if it means questioning aspects of institutions and processes that are legally obligatory.
“Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought…” (JFK)
The paradox of being a teacher is, I think, that on the one hand we are constantly told to keep developing professionally (and personally, as ours is such a personal vocation) and yet at the same time to retain and foster those aspects of our practice that are positive, passionate and/or already effective. We are definitely complex beings if only we had the time to truly map out our own complexity.
I would like to argue that educators can and should do both. To straddle the paradox. To grow and build on knowledge and skills in order to become better whilst at the same time maintain aspects of our professional lives that are of benefit to our students and our colleagues. Part of this is to instil a sense of independence fused to collegiality and collaboration, to feel that we are contributing as an individual to a shared vision alongside others.
That is why I will, over the next two weeks, be trying to sketch my vision for the eLearning/ICT facet of my new school. I have already done so as part of the preparation for the job interview, but having now visited the school a few times and having begun to absorb the potential of what might be possible, I would not only like to share my own ambitions but to spread that ambition across the staff.
This will involve casting my net wide to connect as many minds as is possible and practical to the idea of developing teaching and learning with ICT so that we share the leadership, the delivery and the sustainability of the enterprise. There’s no point in me being a lone ranger – nor is there any point in me encouraging others to be so – for that path leads to isolation, disconnection and despair. I want to foster a sense of community for learning in the staff by connecting them with each other, with ideas and with reflection so that we can stimulate and sustain a process of change that will not just be of benefit today but live and grow along with us.
Let’s keep what we do well, but be ambitious in our actions so that we don’t rest on our laurels and create a herd of sacred cows in our own minds.