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"The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means to an education." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The teachers do all the talking....

This year my family has hosted a foreign exchange student from Europe. It has been a phenomenal learning experience for all of us.  As I talk with her and a few of the other exchange students that sometimes come around, I ask them about school and particularly about their American High School experience versus their experiences in Europe.  Resoundingly, they all talk about how boring school and classes are here in Georgia.  They talk about being challenged only by their mastery of English and not by the classes or instructional model. In all fairness, they are only talking about a dozen teachers' classrooms that they have been in as students. Most telling is probably an offhanded commented I heard two of them share with each other when we were driving in the car.

 "The teachers here in America do all the talking."

It struck me that as I looked back on my high school experience as a student, as a student teacher, and as an observer over the past 20 years, that it is pretty much the case that in most classrooms in most schools, the teachers are doing all the talking in class time.  Our district is engaged in work to become a personalized learning district, a place where education and instruction are focused on students getting what they need, when they need it, and how they need it.  It is fairly simple term for a mightily complex shift in the design and operation of public education.  As our team thinks about the challenges ahead of us in shifting our entire district's focus from teacher to student, its evident that the largest change is going to be moving our administrators and teachers to a place where the job of teacher is not defined by how much one talks in front of a group of students. 

This isn't new though.  The idea that education should be learner-centric, that teachers should be problem posers and providers of feedback and not givers of knowledge, that coursework should be built around clear end goals that students meet with mastery, the idea that different kids need different supports and paths through the curriculum.  Really, none of these ideas are new ones to those educators that have read an education publication in the last half century.  One could argue that these are ideas that John Dewey espoused a century ago in Democracy and Education.

The core of this fundamental shift for an entire district is to get everyone in consensus that our schools exist and have as a primary and ultimate purpose ensuring student demonstration of  mastery of skills and knowledge.  We have recently added to this the idea of college and career readiness to better define those skills and knowledge that students will demonstrate mastery of in their dozen years in K-12.  In order to allow all students to demonstrate mastery, in its simplest form, the students need to be doing all the talking.  This is the fundamental shift in school operations that will be so challenging.