Transforming Education

The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) held a hearing today to discuss their newest report Next Generation Learning: Transforming the Role of Educators Today for the Students of Tomorrow. The panelists included:

  • Dorie Combs, Kentucky State Board of Education
  • Gayle Conelly Manchin, West Virginia Board of Education
  • Kathleen Fulton, Director, Reinventing Schools for the 21st Century, National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF)

Ideal Classroom

Some takeaways (discussed at length in the report) examine how classrooms are viewed today and how they should be viewed in the future. The panelists used the imagery of a teacher standing in front of the classroom with all desks pointed toward him/her as being the way education has been viewed for decades. The panelists asked us to imagine a new way of looking at classrooms. Images were shown of large tables with chairs around them, computers and laptops at work stations individually and collectively, and a teacher using the latest technology and joining students in class projects. This ideal classroom also exhibits other adults with business/corporate/real-world experience in the classroom who participate in collaborative teaching projects.

From Industry to Knowledge

It was argued that the way we think about education is based upon the principles of the industrial age. At the time the system in place worked great, but as society advanced, education transformed from an industrial base to a more knowledge based system. As part of this change, the question for teaching expectations and quality has switched from, “What should we teach?” to “How should we teach?” While there is still a need to know what to teach, new technologies and innovations have created an impetus to transform the way teachers teach. It was pointed out that students have been asked to check in their phone, ipads, laptops, etc. at the door of a school, but instead of fighting the system, educators need to embrace new models that welcome innovation and advancement.

Individual Learning to Collaborative Learning

The concept of the teacher has generally been perceived around the idea of individualism. Teachers would go home, prepare their own lesson plans according to curriculum guidelines, and teach lessons with limited feedback except the occasional evaluation. It was stated that the mindset of an individual teacher needs to be transformed to welcome a peer-group atmosphere; that teachers should work together to bounce ideas off one another, to learn and professionally develop.

Most teachers are thrown into a position after one or two semesters of student teaching, and are expected to know what needs to happen when put into a classroom where the dynamic may be completely different than their training allowed. It is generally a trial by fire. Creating a system where teachers will have more resources to transition from college practicum to the classroom is necessary. This means there needs to be money to enhance the professional development area for teachers.

The report suggests policy changes, allowing college institutions to integrate consistent programs that prepares teachers toward more collaborative movements and preparing schools to be open to new teaching requirements and receive teachers who have the most current training. It was said that teachers who go through rigorous college training and step into a school only to hear “we don’t do that here” is very disheartening and disrupts education preparation and training techniques. It is also disheartening for teachers to step into a profession where they know they will be working for 20 + years without ways to develop and grow.

Learning Team

A learning team is where educators work together to reflect on teaching practices, provide feedback to fellow educators, and exchange insight about teaching practices, etc. The report suggests that learning teams are crucial to creating a 21st century learning environment. Instead of having a teacher who is supposed to know everything, learning teams will give them the opportunity to draw on the experience of peers to help in those areas they may not be as familiar. Teams are designed to provide educators with autonomy where they do less standing in the front of the classroom, create a more collaborative learning unit with students, and find strengths in utilizing other resources to aid in development.

Conclusion

Creating learning teams and communities is not necessarily the silver bullet to education. Those involved in the study realize that this movement will be rigorous and complex. However, student gains and success begins when schools proactively transform from a ‘traditional’ way of learning into a more dynamic way of learning in order to keep up with 21st century learners. It is important for educators and policymakers to understand that students are learning in a very vibrant and robust environment outside the classroom, so it is important to look at what can be done to integrate social and technological equations in the classroom while also providing what teachers need in order to make these adjustments.

It is also important to realize that learning in team-oriented atmospheres gives both educators and students a chance to foster team work, reflection, and continuous growth. Working together from both a teacher-professional and teacher-student perspective is what is going to make this happen.