Monday, February 3, 2014

Just How Much 21st Century Teaching Occurs? Reflections After an #Isedchat Session

     Last Thursday night I was only half paying attention to the #isedchat session, even though I love the sessions found the topic fascinating: classroom design for the 21st century*. So I may not have all my facts correct, and I fear this post may come across as cynicism rather than genuine wonder. Some comments and points made me ask just how much innovative, engaging teaching is actually happening in our schools.
     First, I have to say that I find the people in these chats to be extremely thoughtful and dedicated, the type of people I want working in my school. Just think about the fact they are in an hour-long Twitter chat on a Thursday evening at 9:00 Eastern time, looking for nuggets to improve their craft and schools. They are the people advocating for positive changes. Every time I participate, I learn something; when I can't, I scan the archive. On this particular night there were multiple great points about furniture, multi-use walls, idea paint, configurations, sitting versus standing. Much of it centered around a much more active environment, with students much more active in their learning.
     Then I think about what Grant Lichtman calls all the "brush fires of innovation" he discovered on his massive journey around the country and since. I see the amazing things many of my faculty are doing and what my children's teachers at Greenhill School are doing. I hear from other heads of school. So I know we're moving in the right direction.
     But how much so? And how fast?
     Here is why I ask. In the midst of that wonderful chat, people raised concerns and/or asked questions about the following points. What about when it's blue book/final exam time? Don't we have to train them to sit and listen for long periods of time? To sit for SATs and APs? They won't have classrooms like this in college, and we have to get them ready for that.
     Those are realities, and people are right to bring some of them up. As a head of school, I battle constantly to balance my idealism and my practicality. Why, though, would there be a blue book final exam in such a classroom? Maybe schools that have fully embraced this type of modern education should forget about AP courses and exams. At times the conversation felt a bit schizophrenic. It seemed tinged with a degree of resignation, perhaps even assumption, regarding certain "time honored" practices. Thus arose the question which has been rattling in my mind ever since: just how much innovative teaching--and thus better learning--is going on?
     Whatever the elusive and likely-to-some-degree disappointing answer to that question, I think there is a more important question. It's a big, hairy question, multi-faceted with myriad responses. How do school leaders make sure those who are creating those incredible classrooms for the 21st century, whatever the furniture, feel encouraged and supported?

*As many others have said in other places, I really dislike how we continue to use this term.

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