If there is one thing I truly understand about educators it is that they are slow to change. It might be from decades of people jumping in with the “latest and greatest” answer to a better way to do things in education, or some legislative mandate to fix it all through legislation, only to find it to fizzle out and fall way short when actually implemented. If teachers learned one thing from these experiences it is that, if you wait and ride it out long enough, all of these initiatives will all go away. The problem however is that many educators want to apply this sit and wait posture to anything that requires them leaving their zones of comfort.
The mindset of a 20th Century educator is very comfortable for most educators since they were trained for the most part by 20th century educators. A majority of educators are very comfortable with the methodology and pedagogy of that time. Structure and student compliance matched to a focus on lecture and direct instruction are the common experiences of most educators.
The gap however, between 20th Century educators and 21st Century learners, is now beginning to widen at a much faster rate. Today’s learners have become more directed and into the ownership of their learning. The classroom is no longer the only location where learning takes place. If today’s learner has a need to learn something that has meaning to him/her, he/she can access information and tools to curate, communicate, collaborate and create without any help from someone standing at the head of the class.
If students need info, they can Google it. If they need a demonstration they go to You Tube. They can use any number of applications to create something from what they have learned and to make things better they can collaborate with anyone globally at anytime. The very best part is that after all is said and done they have the ability to publish their work at will.
Many students today learn for a reason, not because they are told to. They have found their voice. Many are finding themselves limited by what is being offered in classrooms. Many have inquisitive minds that do not want to wait to get to the next grade to learn what they want, or need to know now. Students want to learn in order to contribute and gain from meaningful, authentic learning and not because we tell them that, “someday you may need to know this”. Quite honestly the world is changing so rapidly, we do not know the “what” it is that they will need to know for their future. The best we can do to help them is to focus on the “how” to learn for the future, and they will determine the “what” based on their specific needs at that time.
The gap between teacher and student will continue to widen if the educators’ mindset for learning does not evolve. Educators, themselves, must be the Life Long Learners that they speak of in school mission statements and addresses at “parents nights”.
It is the growth mindset of educators that is the key to changing an antiquated system. We can have every educator in the country sign a future ready pledge, but if they have no understanding of what future ready means to them personally, it will be another wasted initiative. Committing to working technology into the infrastructure will have little effect if the educators are not willing to embrace the teaching and learning that must go along with that. We can’t cram 21st Century learning into a 20th Century model of teaching because it is more comfortable for our educators. There should be no comfort zone for an educator that is more important than a student’s relevant education. The students and their learning must be the focus. Educators can only be effective if they to are learners. Teaching is not a passive exercise; it requires work, study, and involvement in an ever-changing world. That is why everyone can’t be a teacher. It requires a growth mindset and a willingness to evolve as a learner for a lifetime and that is a necessary commitment that many are not willing to choose to make.
The idea of collaborative learning has always been with us in education, and in life in general. It is the social learning we talk about. The idea that we can now collaborate globally on a huge scale is something of a shift in thinking in education. It is only as a result of technology that this has become possible. It does afford educators an unlimited pool of collegial sources. Educators who can share ideas and help others avoid problems make up an individual educator’s Personalized Learning Network. This PLN is made up of people, who collectively are smarter than any one individual, and are willing to share. The ability to create and access these sources is all part of a growth mindset for learning in the 21st Century. It also requires an openness to learning about the tools to accomplish it all. This takes time and is not a product of a workshop, or a daylong PD event.
Without a mindset for continually learning, or a limited view on what one is willing to learn, it will be difficult to change the status quo in education. Connecting with others may be a great idea that we all agree will make a difference in education, but what good does that do us, if a majority of educators are only comfortable doing what it is they have always done. Of course, it should go without saying that if staying within those comfort zones worked, we would not be having a global discussion on needed reforms for education.
In order to create these much-needed Personalized Learning Networks educators will need to learn about social media and its culture. The ins and outs of Twitter would be the most efficient and effective way to share what is needed for educators. This however takes some time to learn, and it also takes a commitment of at least 20 minutes a day interacting with connected colleagues for anyone to benefit from this. The benefits far outweigh the time and work involved, but the fact of the matter is that not every educator has a growth mindset. Not every educator shows a willingness to leave those zones of comfort. For those reasons Twitter will never connect all educators. The shame of it is that Twitter is probably the best way to share and learn available to us now. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.