Can You Be a Prophet In Your Own Home Town – Where is Your Grimes?
Recently, I have been working with Amanda Fox (known online as @STEAMpunksEdu). She is a teacher from Kentucky, US, and has just written a zombie-themed book for teachers, which will be released later this year by Dave Burgess Publishing. Amanda tapped into a popular genre and asked what metaphor do zombies have for modern education and what can we learn from these films that can help us become better teachers. It got me thinking about The Walking Dead and the mistake systems make when we act with no ‘braaainnnnsssss’.
Many teachers would be aware of Sir Ken Robinson’s discussions about various educational paradigms. Most would be familiar with Sir Ken talking of education systems as a 19th century invention that was created out of the need to look after the children of the Industrial Revolution. He is also well known for his work on creativity and the establishment of a 21st century education system. A new paradigm if you would! Sir Ken has an answer to what the new paradigm should be. He says, “The answer is not to standardise education but to personalise and customise it to the needs of each child and community. There is no alternative!”
The trouble is, we do not live or work in a new paradigm (yet). We live in a time of transition. We are between paradigms. Yes, we have witnessed amazing innovations within our sector, but we have not brought along all of the parties involved in the understanding of what a new paradigm would look like. In Australia, there has not been a clear, open debate about what a new education paradigm should be. This is an issue that education systems globally have grappled with and has caused a lack of a shared vision. With no joint vision, people have felt disengaged with various movements and initiatives. This disengagement between the different parties, be they teachers, policy makers, university professors, parents or even the students themselves, has caused a strange symptom that could be likened to The Edu-Walking Dead.
The Edu-Walking Dead are people who have switched off from the concept of 21st century pedagogical practice. They do not prescribe to the concept of personalised learning, collaboration across student groups or even country boundaries. Their zombie-like minds think thoughts only of back to the basics, I have always done it this way, or it did not do me any harm! Their goal is to have their students score elevated scores in the high-stakes standardised tests that many governments have imposed on schools. In my own hometown of Sydney, Australia, the principal of Sydney Grammar showed signs of this thinking in his actions to ban laptops in his school for fear of distraction. His rationale was honourable (although his actions were highly questionable); he wanted to improve the test results of his students. The question is, is our entire education system worth more than merely scoring high on your finishing exams? Surely as a society we want more from 13 years of education! What we need is to produce students who have the problem-solving capabilities and the collaborative skills that will best suit our society’s needs in our current and future economies.
Where is our Rick Grimes? Who can Fight the Walking Dead?
We are blessed with a plethora of innovative educators who are able to add transition contemporary paradigm. Dr Allan Carrington from Adelaide fights the good fight. His Padagogy Wheel highlights the need to put pedagogy before technology. He interweaves the SAMR model with Bloom’s taxonomy to create a usable tool where teachers can embed good practice into their lessons through the use of an appropriate technological aid. At the centre of the wheel are graduate capabilities that using the tool will help to develop. These capabilities include having passion and enthusiasm for one’s work. Students also develop the ability to learn from their errors, be collaborative and to think strategically. These are the desirable corporate skill sets that we need to develop to make our students more effective and productive members of society when they transition into adulthood.
Dr Alan Finkel, the Chief Scientist, recently released a report compiled by Professor Chubb into the future of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce in Australia. He highlighted the need for technological literacy has begun to blur between STEM and non-STEM areas. That said, the report also found that STEM-related jobs are growing in Australia at a rate of 1.5 times the speed of non-STEM employment. However, our current graduate population consists of only 15 percent of graduates qualified in STEM, while 26 percent of the population are qualified in non-STEM areas. The report raises the question, is this an appropriate balance to move towards for any nation wanting a successful future in a STEM-centric economy as we re-shape our global economy?
It is Hard to Be a Prophet in Your Own Hometown
Proactive teachers do not want to sit waiting for a Rick Grimes style hero to come and give them a gift-wrapped cure to solve all their zombie apocalypse style issues. They want to solve their own problems and share their knowledge, cures and practices with others. Often though, they hit a brick wall. It is all too common for great teachers to go unlistened to while schools and systems seek advice from further afield.
Why is it that leadership within schools and education systems demand expert advice from other states and countries? Have The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) results from The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) got us mesmerised with what is occurring in Finland and Singapore or is it something more subtle that prevents us from tapping into the local knowledge as often as we should?
It can be hard to be a prophet in your hometown because your local audience remembers you when you were developing your ideas and skill set. They knew you when you were learning and still cutting teeth. They remember you before you got to a level of proficiency that others would consider expert status.
Familiarity creates fondness, but it can also breed contempt. People are less likely to get excited about something that they are already familiar with. This is true in business, relationships and education.
There is a need for principals and system leaders to be more open to using the talent of those in their own backyard, but at the same time if you are sick of waiting for a knight in shining armour to save you and your students and you are ready to be your own Rick Grimes, reach out beyond your immediate surrounds. Look for ways to find connections. What you will find from city to city, state to state and even country to country is that we are all fighting the same fight. All teachers are looking for ways to better engage with their students and help them achieve stronger results. We all want to strengthen our bonds with parents as we not only navigate political interference but work to build better schools. If you have answers to these issues, then you will have an audience eager to listen. You just need to find a way for your voice to be heard!