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|“THE FUTURE ISN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE”: The future for educational leadership in Australia’s 21st century|
|Author: Michael Valentine, Hale School | March 7th, 2012|
Educational leadership compels us to translate the vision for our school into reality. The distinct challenge that faces us currently in Australia is how our schools must change as we become accountable for the 21st century educational narrative that has become such a rich feature of our educational conversations and vision statements in recent years. The message to our school communities has changed, not so subtly, from one focused on establishing technological platforms to one stressing the need for innovation, collaboration and creativity in our 21st century students’ lives. At the same time in Australia, we now have to confront a bureaucratic tide of national curriculum content set in a traditional subject framework, in addition to a quantitative focus on national literacy and numeracy standards. There is a tension not easily resolved between these two needs that school leaders must negotiate so that our schools serve our students’ effectively. It is time for a renaissance in teaching and learning to rekindle the passion for the role of teaching in our community.
Our society is becoming shallower and the unique wonder of the existence and value of the individual is proving to be a challenge. A focus on National Curricular and National Testing is sweeping across Australia. Consequently, we must stand guard to ensure that such administrative efficiencies are not replicated in our schools and so dilute the richness of existence in a way we won’t recognise until it is too late. Unfortunately, it appears such efficiencies are indeed on the horizon and are represented by a quest for academic conformity, for standardisation of practises and measurements in schools across the land. They are intrinsically distracting and inherently toxic to innovation, creativity and collaboration. When we conform we lose momentum and the quest to move forward gives way to the quest for improving where we are currently. Innovation is lost and we defensively espouse educational growth in quantitative terms; a practice used when progress is not obvious to the learner (or their parents). Higher literacy and numeracy scores should be a given, not aspirational targets or educational end-points. We have to lift our expectations for 21st century education to include the tools for constructing knowledge and finding solutions to problems collaboratively.
Our world has changed dramatically in recent years in a way that transcends all other changes experienced by previous generations. Rather than growing intellectually we are, perhaps, shrinking by over simplifying the great, standardising that which is unique, and continuing to fragment that which is so deeply connected. National testing and national curricular are escalating this deterioration by devaluing “intellectual agility” which I define as a mix of skills, values and processes students develop by recognising connections in their learning and communicating them creatively and uniquely. Our greatest teachers have for generations recognised the value of such connections. As school leaders we must ask our teaching teams to be cognisant that there exist in our 21st century classrooms four drivers that we must understand, embrace and utilise so that we serve our students successfully. Only one is devoted to what we teach; the rest to how.
1. Our students’ capacities and expectations on what and how they are going to learn. These have become significantly richer and stronger in the age of the computer. We must cater for their universal access (no compromises) to knowledge and change what they are learning and change how we teach as a consequence.
2. The increased knowledge and understanding available to the teaching community on how students learn best. This is a fascinating and well document area. The fact that intelligence is “diverse, distinct and dynamic” (Sir Ken Robinson, in his book The Element) is a game-changer and only one example of this new knowledge. We must access the science of learning, not recycle the traditions that are perhaps more and more in need of refining and a new context.
3. The educational will and infrastructure to collectively achieve, across all classrooms, the lofty ideals identified in each school’s “Philosophy of Teaching and Learning,” a document usually produced independently and revised every couple of years. It usually speaks eloquently about differentiation, embracing technology and catering for learning styles.
4. The curriculum, in whatever shape or form we have it delivered to our classrooms.
The next generation of students will require us to change our emphasis on the traditional academic transfer of knowledge and challenge us to enrich the intellectual capacities of our students. This change recognises that it is actually intellectual values, processes and skills that must sit alongside our academic content as priorities for enduring success in our new society and not as a “value-added” as perhaps they have been in schools or even traditionally, perceived to be innately possessed by our brightest students. These values, processes and skills need to be taught at the heart of a rich, interconnected academic curriculum. It is crucial that teachers of today’s students inspire them to be individuals who develop unique capacities as a consequence of these values, skills and processes.
The changes I have recently considered are based on these four drivers and ask that we re-consider the direction we are taking.
Firstly, for hundreds of years the core function of education has been the transmission of the accumulated knowledge represented by the great disciplines of maths, science, humanities and the arts. They have represented the most valued of that which we have sought to pass on to each generation in order for them to understand how our society works and where they might contribute and succeed after they leave school. These four great disciplines have stood mighty in the academic pantheon. It is time to enrich that which we bequeath the next generations of students. These disciplines, of course, remain core intellectual anchors. However, the nature of our society has changed so that knowledge, unique to each discipline and memorised for later reference in isolation, is no longer a valid currency for society. The connections between the disciplines are clear to the intellectually agile and this should become our focus for all students. Understanding the rich beauty of each discipline needs to be complemented by the intellectual qualities of being innovative and intellectually agile, communicating seamlessly across disciplines and tasks, and, collaborating with teams of innovative thinkers seeking a variety of solutions to a problem.
Secondly, we must passionately explore and value unique teaching methods and celebrate the many variations in how students might demonstrate their learning. Such thinking therefore compels us to consider that a sustained focus on measuring those most fundamental of educational practices, can take our eye off the future needs of our students. Fundamental numeracy and literacy are a given for the future in all schools surely. They are a starting point for a quality education. Let us be a teaching community inspired and empowered to deliver an educational experience which uniquely, memorably and deeply inspires our students to see imagination, insight and creativity as tools for the future. Science, technology and psychology have significantly enhanced our knowledge of how students learn best and our challenge is to cope with this new knowledge and implement it as classroom teachers. Let us see a National Testing programme in Australia for communication, problem solving and intellectual agility in the near future. This is the science of teaching.
Thirdly, as we move into the future let’s continue to celebrate the diversity of each school community and as leaders continually seek to celebrate teachers whose curriculum is personalised and transcends the ordinary in all learning areas. Let there exist school communities who stand tall and give confidence to students, and teachers, to be individuals who are creative and innovative with teaching, learning and technology. It requires us to celebrate those who teach in a manner which recognises the richness of our human capacities and do so memorably, uniquely and passionately. Let us be extremely confident in our capacity to provide a programme that with ease fulfils the base traditional expectations of national standards, and in educational terms surges over that particular low horizon to the stars; where lie educational opportunities that innovative, confident, knowledgeable and creative teachers know provide our students with life-long values, stretch their capacities and so inspire enduring optimism. This is the art of teaching.
Finally, let us ensure that our students not only look back on their days at school with warmth, a sense of belonging and perhaps gratitude; but also let the students in the classrooms of the next 25 years be able to look forward and be inspired by being able to identify a direct line of sight from their classroom lessons to their personal aspirations for, and knowledge of, their future inspiring engagement and connection with their learning. The next generation will always need to read and write; but they will also, as perhaps never before, need to be creative, innovative and have rich and valid insights about their own capacities to connect ideas and think seamlessly across disciplines.
My own contribution to achieving these changes has been inspired by 1:1 in my school and the extraordinary connections I have made with other schools on projects interconnecting literature, history, writing and technology. The greatest leadership moments have come as a consequence of a teaching team being inspired by the excitement of possibilities as they plan curricular in this context. Instead of a prescribed, one dimensional and linear learning journey the curriculum is undulating, multi-dimensional, memorable and it captures the imagination of the broader school community. Instead of resulting in the emergence of the culture where students obsessively monitor their progress based on generic, quantitative profiles; there emerges an academic confidence founded upon increasing intellectual agility and a capacity to demonstrate their learning in different ways. Instead of isolated, subject specific tasks failing to offer a direct line of sight to 21st century skills and values, the curriculum enhances the appreciation of the interconnections in our world as well as a richer sense of time, history and the true nature of creativity, because it is demonstrated every day by their peers as they respond uniquely to each task in each lesson.
We need to construct our schools so that the excitement of possibilities drives our curriculum design. We have to move on from the concept of transferring the legacy of the past to the next generation.
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