“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” John Dewey
The fire alarm at my school erupted for the fourth time that morning. Sure to be another false alarm set off by construction workers, the bell buzzed insistently, forcing all of us to head for the exit. Standing outside in the brisk air, I noticed the student fashions surrounding me. A custodian came up to me and read my mind. “I had a purse like that in the early ‘70s. It’s funny how things recycle with new names. We called them hip huggers and now they’re called low rise. Today they’re flares and we called them bell bottoms. Nothing really ever changes, it just goes through the cycle,” she said.
Her words resonated with me for the next few days. I couldn’t stop thinking about how true the words were and how well they applied to education. Really, how many times can we rewrite standards and benchmarks? How many times have we looked at “new” practices only to realize the only thing new was the name?
Teachers comment often, at least the ones I know, that when change comes to just wait. The “newest and greatest” will soon be replaced by a different program, repackaged from years ago, that is the next “newest and greatest.”
So why is education like that? We seem to be constantly evolving yet never changing. The same delivery method used over 100 years ago is the same method used today—stand and deliver as the sage on the stage. True, some schools are moving towards a different model, but for the most part education as a whole, secondary and post-secondary at least, function using that prescription.
But is this a best practice? As teachers we are encouraged by the education gurus to follow best practices, but I wonder when administrators will follow their own direction? What is best practice? To lecture or to engage? To bore or to stir up curiosity?
I wonder a lot about my classroom and kids. “What if” scenarios stream through my mind rapidly, the more I ponder this idea of integrated classrooms. What if students were able to direct their own learning with teachers as a guide? What if we gave them freedom to research and explore stuff that applies to the real world? What if we broke free from the past model and created a totally new way of doing school? What if mandates and policies weren’t set up by businessmen but actually included teachers on an advisory board?
What if teachers relied less on packets and more on inquiry-based learning, allowing students to delve into curricular areas and create projects that relate to the world around them? What if teachers met with other teachers and collaborated during time set aside by the district for just such an action? What if teachers taught PD days, utilizing and affirming the talent in the districts rather than bringing in multi-thousand dollar speakers?
Education can deviate from the way it’s been done in the past. We can be the catalyst for change. Maybe not for a whole district, but we can affect our classroom and maybe our colleagues. Take a risk and try something different. Create a unit that allows students to research and read and explore topics that challenge them and relate to their world. Be a coach, a mentor, a guide and then see what an impact you can have. “What if,” indeed.