Reflections On Teachers For Tomorrow

QudwaI started my working day reading about the research into the impact on literacy of Microsoft’s Learning Tools and I’m finishing it reading the reflections of Andreas Schleicher on the recent Qudwa Global Teachers’ Forum hosted in the UAE earlier this month.

It’s a terrific read – and I direct you to the original blog post in full here – if for no other reason than Andreas is a great writer who has managed to capture the sense of optimism and hope for the future of education. Naturally, however, it’s far more than just that and in my mind he has articulated the challenges facing the teaching profession between being progressive and future focused, whilst working within the paradigm of government enforced bureaucracy.

The hope, as he sees it at least, is contained in the most precious resource of all – the talents of individual teachers. He encapsulates this in the following quote, which is my personal favourite:

Knowledge and skills have become the global currency of 21st-century economies. But there is no central bank that prints this currency; we cannot inherit this currency, and we cannot produce it through speculation. We can only develop it through sustained effort and investment by people and for people. And no school system can achieve that without attracting, developing and sustaining great teaching talent. (emphasis my own)

Attracting and sustaining great teaching talent comes at a cost (the NZ Teacher Unions are saying when, not if, a strike is coming) however it would seem those teachers present at the forum didn’t even raise this well acknowledged issue. Instead, they focused on the challenges and offered possible solutions, many of which could be implemented immediately.

Some of the themes that emerged that stood out to me from the article include:

  • The deep commitment of teachers to the ongoing issue of equity and how they can personalize and differentiate learning so that all students can engage meaningfully in their own education not simply a “one size fits all” model. This is not new by any stretch, but it’s pleasing nonetheless to see it at the forefront of discussion.
  • Demonstrating a true “growth mindset” is a critical success factor for educators. This idea came through in a few places in the article, where it was suggested that a teacher training college should be seen as simply laying the foundation for a professional career, and something that should be actively built upon by the teacher who demonstrates to their students a commitment to being a “life long learner”

As Richard Spencer, from the United Kingdom, noted: “Great teachers are great learners and students need to see their teachers learning.”

  • Digital technology can leverage great teaching, but it can never replace poor teaching. This echoes a phrase that I’m sure I’ve plagiarized from an unknown source that “technology is a great servant of pedagogy” – in other words, get the priority order right! Schleicher goes on to suggest teachers could crowd source the best educational content and ideas to drive their own professional learning – a fine idea in theory, yet it remains challenging in practice. In New Zealand, we have the N4L Pond set up to deliver something precisely like this, declaring itself as “Future Ready, World Ready” however ongoing challenges around copyright and ownership of intellectual property created by teachers remains a blocker for sharing. This can, of course, be resolved through the implementation of Creative Commons licensing, yet only a fraction of schools have gone down this pathway.
  • The challenges of managing the pace of change in schools and the subsequent need for “ownership of the teaching profession” to lie with teachers rather than bureaucrats. To me, this was possibly the most fascinating point as I constantly hear from schools, and particularly the teachers responsible for professional development and change management, that teachers simply can not keep up with the pace and constant changes to curriculum, assessment practices, digital technologies and pedagogical theory. I’m going to quote at length on this section:

 Even the most effective attempts to push a government-established curriculum into classroom practice will drag out over a decade, because it just takes so much time to communicate the goals and methods through the different layers of the system and to build them into traditional methods of teacher education. In this age of accelerations, such a slow process is no longer good enough and inevitably leads to a widening gap between what students need to learn and what teachers teach. When fast gets really fast, being slow to adapt makes us really slow.

Having a plan, people sticking to the plan, working a plan, people not being destructive.

I know that when we hire people at Microsoft they’re some of the skills: do they have those critical thinking skills? Can you work in a team? Are they open to making mistakes and learning from those mistakes? They’re some of the valuable things that we’re looking for as an employer.

My Point Of View:

I am probably a curious blend of personalities when it comes to working in the EdTech sector – I’m naturally conservative by nature and yet possess at least some vision to see the impact that technology is having on the education sector. The superb whitepaper entitled Youth, Technology & Disruption highlights the disruptive effect of technology at an unprecedented scale on virtually every sector of society. As educators, we ignore this at our peril and are forced to grapple with what it means for our profession and how change will be managed.

Will this result in a “loosening of the grip” of educational policy? Almost invariably. Indeed, the research I mentioned at the outset of this blog post openly states it was produced in response to the demand from educators for faster research cycles because they could not wait for traditional longitudinal findings to be published.

Will this sit uncomfortably with the educational purists who have long determined what is “best practice” in schools? No doubt. It unsettles me, that’s for sure, but it is going to be our response to these challenges that will determine the level of success for future national curriculum.

It’s often been said that teaching is a vocation, not just a profession – here’s the two definitions to consider:

vocation
və(ʊ)ˈkeɪʃ(ə)n/
noun
  1. a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.
    “not all of us have a vocation to be nurses or doctors”
    synonyms: calling, life’s work, missionpurposefunctionpositionnicheMore
profession
prəˈfɛʃ(ə)n/
noun
  1. 1.
    a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.
    “his chosen profession of teaching”
    synonyms: careeroccupationcallingvocation, line of work, line of employment, linemétier;More

It’s interesting, if not slightly ironic, that the definition of profession references teaching – but perhaps that is the point? For education to flourish in this time of rapid change, perhaps we need a professional approach to this most noble of vocations.

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