“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer
This is a quote that I have read, heard and seen adapted many times in presentations, on twitter and in blogs. I really don’t think there would be anyone who seriously believes that our world is not changing, or that the workforce our students enter will be identical to our own experiences. I don’t believe resistance to change is due to a disbelief, or denial that our world is changing. What I do believe is that many teachers are purely a product of the education system they are now a part of. Learning was remembering facts and equations and completing pages of questions or cloze writing.
Probably rarely encouraged to question or challenge an idea or concept in school, for many of us, it was probably not until University where we were asked for an opinion of our own or an opportunity to reflect upon our own learning. Many are more comfortable with delivering a prescriptive curriculum than being designers of curriculum. Just as our students are more comfortable doing the same because they know it has been successful in the past.
So how can we expect our teachers to be learners if they have never learned to learn?
We need to foster a culture where questions are inherent in the development process. By encouraging questions and encouraging being questioned as a leader, we can show that there is not one decisive best way to educate all students, to run a program or to implement a process. Through continually questioning what we are doing and why we are doing it, we can model to develop better ways.
Not knowing the answers is the first step towards taking a risk and if we are to prepare for tomorrow, today must be approached with openness and willingness to be critical (not critisisors) of ourselves and of each other.
I believe that developing a culture of growth requires being able to reflect, make changes or adjustments, even completely disband and move on. Part of that reflection is acknowledging things that aren’t working. To avoid criticism of our actions would mean doing nothing. Personally I would rather be criticised for trying to be better than continuing to do the same or nothing “just because”. This is where we need critical friends.
I believe organisations, teams and individuals need to hear the bad stuff! I recall a time at a school when we were asked to survey students about their experience at school and a leader suggested there were some whom could be missed (those being students who would respond in a likely negative manner). I asked what would the point of the survey be then? If we don’t get an honest response, how do we know what needs to improve?
Few people have the wisdom to prefer the criticism that would do them good, to the praise that deceives them. – Francois de La Rochefoucauld
I don’t know if it is my background in sport that helped me develop a “thick skin” (coaches can be quite blunt) or something else, but I have always sought feedback and critique for how to improve. That is not to say that some times its extremely hard to hear. There are times I have felt that overwhelming urge to defend myself and not truly listen to what is being said. What I have learnt to appreciate over my time working with much more experienced and smarter people than I, is we can never have all the answers and more often than not, someone else has a solution to a problem or a perspective that is just as valid if not more so!
Within my own team I value transparency and communication and hope by providing opportunities to openly discuss and reflect on our practice, it fashions an atmosphere where the criticism is not personal but focussed on how we can make learning better for our kids, thus fostering honesty.
Google Docs has been one way in which we achieve this. Each time we implement/introduce a new strategy, unit of work or change in our schedule, we share a document for reflection. We have simple headings including: ‘positives’, ‘negatives’ and ‘suggestions for the future’.
When it is an innovation or strategy that I have instigated I am sure to be the first to reflect critically upon myself. I think this triggers other staff feeling comfortable in giving honest feedback. By modelling honest critical reflection, I establish the focus upon constant improvement with learning at the centre.
We also hold professional conversations that prompt opportunities to have deeper discussions about our roles and how I can improve my support and leadership within our faculty.
Granting opportunities for others to judge, respond or reflect on decisions or actions we have made makes us vulnerable. I always focus my energies on how this will help our students and this ensures I can move beyond any personal angst I might feel.