My Manifesto To Learning

At my keynote at the recent Midwest Google Summit, I challenged the educators to write their own manifesto associated with teaching and learning. In my opinion, a really good manifesto gets after it, puts ideas out there, and is on the edge.  So, several asked: “Where is yours?” A great question, so here it is.  I hope it challenges your thinking.

Connect with kids first.   Show up prepared.  Challenge them.  Be fair and honest with them.  Understand they are kids.   Say hello in the hallway. And get involved with what they do and in their lives.  It’s not that hard.  Connect with them first.  Yeah, I get that you met your PLN at a conference and that was cool, and that Twitter chats are amazing because you get to connect with other teachers around the world, but its infinitely more important to understand who is sitting before you, what they are challenged by, what they need, and who they hope to become because that’s why you’re there and that’s what has meaning.

holstee the next 28 daysUnderstand the Any’s.  Learning now can occur anytime, anywhere, with anyone, with any size group of learners, down any path of interest and passion, and with any type of technology device assisting that process.  Believing that learners have to learn at a discrete time, in a discrete space, with the same people around a single subject with only two recognized sources of content (teacher and textbook) with limited access to other resources and with having to ask permission to do anything is absolutely ridiculous.  That model is over.  Except in schools.

Learning has a much larger identity than instruction.  Instruction = what you do.  Learning = what they do.  What they do =interesting.  You = maybe.  And instruction is only a small part of learning- ask any kid that has been bullied, shows up to school without a breakfast, or has to learn in a chair designed in 1953.  Many schools seek to improve the education of students by improving what teachers do and that means improving instruction.  But that doesn’t guarantee improvement, because improving instruction does not necessarily improve learning.  Focus on what kids need and do to improve schools.  Part of that means improving what teachers do, but schools that solely focus on that alone have a limited focus on what it means to improve.  Learning is a much bigger question and equation than instruction, and one that is certainly more interesting.

You can be a good teacher without using technology.  But ignoring digital, ignoring online, and ignoring the devices that connect learners to the resources and expertise that lives there means you are ignoring the mightiest technology ever developed by human beings.  You’re bigger than that?  Really?  And how’s that a good model for students?  And, most importantly, how will they view you as someone who understands their reality and future, and provides a contemporary learning experience for them to learn and grow in?

It’s not about beanbags.  It’s not about couches.  It’s about the learning experience.  Design is informed by intent.  Placing a couch in a classroom does not create a learning space, it creates a classroom with a couch in it, and a really uncomfortable conversation with the fire marshal.  What do you want the student learning experience to be and mean?  Design the space around that-and not because you want a really bad Starbucks for a classroom that will get you play on Twitter and at EdCamps.  And, while we are on redesign of classrooms, the first step in redesigning a classroom is to reject the notion that it has to be a classroom.

Technology integration in a contemporary school is the responsibility of students, not the teachers or the school.  Are you really still talking about technology integration?  It’s not even an interesting question anymore- it’s just a given, right?  Students should have the choice of determining when and where and what they learn with, in accordance with their needs.  That’s about creating a culture of student agency, and one where the creation of learning dispositions is first and foremost.  A learning environment today is one filled with choice, and not one that is predicated on the wishes, needs, and wants of a teacher. Learning is about the learner and technology is an integral component of the learning landscape, and not an integrative one.

Your file cabinet is not that interesting.  Still using the same stuff?  Meet the new stuff, same as the old stuff?  C’mon, try something new.  It will do you good.  Reject everything in your file cabinet for one year.  Ask for your file cabinet to be put into storage.  Have good things in there?  Better things await.  See next.

Embrace edges.  It’s where the action is.   A rubric for Twitter? I get 4 points for using hashtags? Okay: #ridiculous, #giggle #icanhazmypointsnow? . Linking iPad apps to Blooms’s taxonomy?  #zzzzzz. Creating scavenger hunts with augmented reality? #speechless, #really?  Think forward, not backward, and reject retro!  Where’s new, because new is what is needed. #seriously  A career spent living in normal and expected is a comfortable one (#boring) but one that misses the mark of the capacity of human beings to dream, vision and achieve remarkable things (#exciting!)  Challenge yourself to step to the edge to create a new normal of challenge, risk-taking, design and wonder.

Schools need a different language.  Here is my idea.  And I get that you’ll most likely find while it won’t work, rather than why it might work.  If that’s your focus, then your focus is on maintaining the status quo because you challenge and disarm anything that takes you away from comfort.  Such a culture relies on “yeah, but” to sustain itself.  A new language that embraces an interaction where all can contribute ideas safely and where those ideas are measured on their own merit, and not against someone’s small perspective, is the only acceptable option.

Schools should prepare students for possibility.  A myopic focus on preparing students for college as the sole outcome of education is simply wrong and constitutes a shallow perception of the true potential of an education.  If you are an educator that believes that the only path for students is college, 1987 is calling.  It needs you.  An education should prepare students for multiple possibilities of their choosing, not a pre-selected pathway and destination determined by educators that have little understanding of current reality, what’s possible, and what students want to accomplish with their lives.  Such a focus represents true disconnect.  Prepare students for the opportunity of possibility.

Embrace success at every opportunity.   Schools help kids succeed.  A focus, a fascination really, on trendy topics such as teaching kids how to fail, establishing confusion as a pre-requisite for learning, and establishing “grit” as a focus of learning create false targets for schools that distract from true purpose.  Understanding how to rebound from setbacks is something important of course, and to use them as a moment in learning is likewise.  But to make them a focus is the stuff of keynote presenters looking for a speaking niche.  Understand and evaluate the role of such topics, but always consider them in the context of success.

Education needs its own big ideas.  Not little ones. Big ones.  Moonshot thinking.  Generating electricity with playground equipment for lighting at night for kids to study with where there is no electricity, connecting 75 billion devices all together by 2020 in an Internet of Things, putting balloons in the stratosphere to provide Internet capability to 5 billion more people that adds those voices into the networked conversation of the Web -yeah, big stuff like that.  Where are education’s big ideas at that scale?  They were needed yesterday…

So, that’s it.  A little on edge, but I think that’s what a manifesto means.

Thoughts would be appreciated.

 

Image courtesy of thenext28days.  Some rights reserved

Comments

  1. Bill lewis says:

    Thanks David. I have read this several times. I think you could title it “Connect with Kids” . Cool that you put that first. It is the number one attribute of a successful teacher almost every time.

    I will put some time in thinking and writing my own.
    I think my first statement will be Get off the high horse. It seems every third twitter post is some sweeping general statement about what is wrong with teaching, or teachers. Sometimes I feel like we are our own worst enemy. I lot of big talk. Time for me to figure out actions.

    See you in Austin
    Bill

    • davidjakes says:

      That’s a nice start. I look forward to reading it. Please post it here if you can. Thanks for your comments and for reading the post.

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