Change is an interesting dilemma! There are those in the world who are continual non-adopters of change and others who jump on every change that comes about, good or bad! From a leaders point of view, I can understand both, accept both and need to work with the two ends of a very diverse continuum. The most frustrating group to work with is neither of the above. Instead, I’m frustrated by those who openly advocate for the need for change but actually construct barriers to change or worse, practice open non-compliance.
There are few fields of study that more rigorously debate change than education. We are constantly looking at ways to improve instructional practice, enhance curriculum relevance and to further intellectually engage students. It would be my belief that I would receive a resounding affirmation if I posed those improvements to the general society. Who would not agree with efforts to improve instructional practice, enhance curriculum relevance or further intellectually engage students?
Unfortunately, here is where the struggle manifests itself. While there is certainly agreement with those needed improvements in our education system and many will even suggest that the system is “broken”, few are willing to accept the monumental changes required to get there! There is a “yes to this” and a “yes to that” BUT “don’t you dare change that” mentality that stalls most transformation plans. In other words, I want you to climb the mountain of change but I’m just going to cuff your hands and shackle your feet before you begin!
A sad example of this thinking came last month in a small rural division in Alberta. Battle River School Division made a monumental leap in terms of their assessment practices. Not only was their move well based in research, it was the right thing to do to move from 20th century learning to 21st century learning and beyond. It was a bold action because it challenged our existing views of how students learn and how we assess that learning. Unfortunately, it was met with significant hostility forcing the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Larry Payne to issue this letter.
We have very different students in our classrooms today. In fact, we have a very different society. Knowledge is available 24/7 and technology has created a world that is flat and almost without borders. Our North American education system, as good as it is, cannot ever meet the needs of our current or future students without radical transformation. This transformation will require us (educators and society alike) to move away from what we know to the unknown. We can no longer embrace the traditions of schooling that we’ve held on to so dearly when we are being required and rightfully required to educate ALL children and not just some!
Every child that enters our classroom is unique. Each have special talents, hidden abilities, hopes and dreams. Every child has the ability to create and innovate. The education system and society in general can ill afford to place an abrupt end to any of those talents, abilities, hopes and dreams. But to accomplish this monumental task, we must let go of the old and the comfortable; practices and structures that only further enshrines the 20th century model of schooling and instead dream and be open to the limitless opportunities we have in the future. The education system needs modern leaders (trustees, administrators, teachers, parents and community members) who refrain from holding on to the known, especially when stepping into the unknown is what’s needed.