Wisdom from the periphery

As always, I’m amazed by the wisdom of the people who form my online network. My last post was written out of the frustration I was feeling when I was temporarily overwhelmed by a sense of isolation – it seemed to me that I was speaking a foreign language amongst many of those around me. It wasn’t long before I started to receive comments from other educators – intelligent, diverse and encouraging comments. My sense of isolation was short-lived. These people have become colleagues regardless of their geographical location. They have become valuable friends and colleagues, sharing their views based on experience and reflection. I feel inspired and supported by these people; thankyou to all of you.

I would recommend you read all the comments, and I’d like to take the opportunity to feature the last comment I’ve received so far, because it would be a shame to leave it buried. I admire Paul Stewart’s deep thinking, and I think he eloquently expresses what many of us can relate to:

A wonderful post. It’s a reminder that we’re not all on the same page. Teachers are an eclectic bunch, and this should be a good thing – I abhor homogeneity, as do kids – but I can appreciate your frustration that our differences result in division. Ironically, it is our diversity that should unite us – it’s what makes us interesting to our students.

That said, I find it difficult to understand how educators – people charged with the responsibility of extending our youth, could be so reluctant to understand the context in which today’s youth develop. These teachers often see school as separate to the world outside, rather than an essential part of it.

Now I don’t buy into the whole digital natives nonsense (now there’s a flawed concept that has got more mileage than it deserved) but I do believe it is the role of any educator to constantly seek out new ways to engage, stimulate and challenge their students. Educators should be provocative. They should be unsettling (but in a good way).

And students? Well, students should be constantly shedding their skin in a classroom. They should be pushed to embrace change by experiencing it.

Now of course, you don’t need to use technology every minute of a lesson to achieve such outcomes, but it puzzles me that some teachers can so easily dismiss the opportunities that lie in technology: the chance to produce rather than consume, the chance to collaborate across time and space, the chance to make a mark upon society without using a spray can. Technology gives students so many tools to analyse, design, produce and investigate and these should not be denied to kids simply because a teacher is unfamilar with such tools.

I added dumplings to a chicken curry I made the other day and one of my progeny stuck out his bottom lip and refused to eat. After much coaxing, he tried one, then two… Ten minutes later he stuck out his bowl for seconds. I was pleased but I wish it didn’t have to be so hard. It’s sometimes like that with teachers (and they do not have the defence of youth to excuse their reactions to new experiences).

Your post really made me think of how different people are. As I get older, I am increasingly aware that I am approaching a time when there will be fewer days in front of me than there are behind me, and that makes me want to pack in as many new experiences as possible. The thought of doing something the same way twice kind of depresses me. The thought of teaching the same lesson that I taught five years ago, ignoring all the incredible changes that have happened in the world, now that would lead to ennui so crippling, I wouldn’t get out of bed.

I don’t think you’re alone in getting frustrated in having to justify your position, but that’s the lot of innovative people. By pushing the boundaries, you (by definition) place yourself on the periphery. There will always be a need to supply justifications to employers (they have a right to ask) but I hope we can move to a place in education where the innovative and bold are not subject to the sort of scepticism you allude to in your post.

Thankyou for taking the time to reply so thoughtfully, Paul. This line made me sit up and take notice:

These teachers often see school as separate to the world outside, rather than an essential part of it.

How many of us have thought about whether what we do at school has anything to do with the outside world? That would make an interesting survey, don’t you think?

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2 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, Education, networking, teachers, teaching, technology

2 responses to “Wisdom from the periphery

  1. I often think that teachers are great socializers for students. They need a lot of help particularly when the home environment is not that supportive. In that sense teachers make vital connections with the outside world. They are shaping the lives of future citizens that could span several generations.

  2. Paul, you make a valid point about a vital part teachers play apart from teaching academic content. I was listening to the Oxford Style Debate yesterday, “Bricks and Mortar Schools are Detrimental to the Future of Education”, (summarised somewhat here http://bit.ly/7ZzvB), and although I agree that the old C19th school must go, the social connections and influences between students and teachers, the school community and the wider community are so important.

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