Education as Container

As a profession, and as an experience, K-12 education in the U.S. is containerized.

There are containers that delineate roles:  administrators, teachers, staff, stcontainersmalludents, and parents.  And that’s just a start.

There are containers that represent experiences:  classrooms, instruction, assessment, curriculum, bell schedule, the school year, and professional development.

It’s even possible to represent a container by using another container.

The danger of containers is that they create boundaries.  Boundaries limit and establish the range of what is possible…and contribute to making things impossible.

Containers also influence how educators speak about education.  The containers mentioned above frame the language of education – they represent the common vocabulary of educators.  For example, the word “classroom” is used universally when describing where learning occurs.  It’s also used unconsciously…it just is, that’s the place.  Might thinking extend beyond the conceptualization of that as a location for learning?  How does that belief, and that language, limit how educators think about what that space might become?   Why does learning have to take place in a classroom?

The same is true for PD.  That’s so ingrained in how educators talk about their own learning, it’s frightening.  When educators learn, they learn through PD.  That’s how its done.  Even when new opportunities like EdCamps and Twitter chats emerge, educators quickly describe them as “the best PD I ever had.”  Right into the container it goes….

If education has to have a container, it only needs one:  learning.

But it’s time to move past containers and the siloed thought and practice they encourage.  Education doesn’t need to get better at 1987.  

The first step in doing that, in my opinion, begins with establishing a new language capable of supporting change, growth, and improvement that does not containerize thought and practice.

Education needs a new vocabulary, one that is unbounded, and one based in possibility and opportunity, optimism, and bravery.  


Image:  Some rights reserved, Glyn Lowe Photoworks





  1. David Phillips says:

    Hmmm. I’m going to have to think about this. I’m always seeking opportunities to learn about learning, about better tech tools, about ways to reach and engage my students. I’m pro-active about this, following innovative people on Twitter & G+, reading blogs or publications like Edutopia and Miguel’s posts, looking for ways to improve the learning I share with my students.
    But many, perhaps most teachers I know (and I’m not suggesting they are the norm) think of professional development as an event with a defined beginning and end. This makes me sad, but most of them don’t search out ways to grow and improve. You may be on to something when you suggest that we need to change the terms, though I think that perhaps it’s not the terms but the core concepts of education for both teachers and students that needs to change.
    I’m not sure I know how to do it. I think I see what needs to change, but I don’t know how to make it happen, especially at my school.
    If you figure it out, let me know.

  2. davidjakes says:

    David: I’m glad you are thinking about this, that’s the point of putting ideas out there, right? I think that education has been wildly successful in this country, a grand institution that at its best tried to educate everyone and did a pretty good job of it. But education in the US needs to move away from what it’s always done. While many agree that to be true, not all do – and are comfortable with doing what has always been done. There seems to be a lack of both awareness and urgency.

    I would say, regarding the terms, that a new vocabulary is needed. Can you effectively initiate, create, and sustain change by using the same vernacular that reflects education of a different era? I think the current vocabulary is limiting at best and constrains the conversation, and action, surrounding school improvement, a container itself. And these words are such givens, almost untouchable with regards to what they mean and how they are used. It’s simply time to think bigger.

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