Planting the Seeds of Opportunity

I had the pleasure today to be in Vancouver to hear Sir Ken Robinson talk about the schools of the future. But where to start? There were so many great nuggets.

The thing that stuck with me most was the idea of stripping education down to its main purpose and then ask what is essential. If you strip away everything, the school building, the text books, the standards, the politics, and so on, what you are basically left with is a student and teacher. That teacher can be a parent, a professional teacher, or another peer. In essence, education relies on Relationships. Anything you add to that, if it doesn’t improve it – get rid of it. He said all the rest of it is noise or distractions.

Education, especially in the public schools are bloated with a lot of things we don’t need or do not improve education. Organizations like schools are not machines. They are about people and feelings.

The other thing he mentioned is that everything happens at the ground level between student and teachers and that we are going through an education revolution.

He said he cannot predict the future, but asked us to imagine what the processing power of a computer 10, 15, 50 years from now. Just think about it. If you could go back in time to the 1950s, would they believe you could have all the computing processing power in your pocket? We don’t know what kind of jobs these kids are going to have (most haven’t been invented yet). So as teachers, we need to try new things, take risks, be creative, and in turn nurture the same thing in our students. We cannot continue using practices from the 19th or even the 20th century. Change happens, it happens slowly but it is increasing. Sir Ken mentioned that if you asked Queen Victoria if she would have imagined the British Empire gone within one generation, do you think she would have believed you?

The first words of my school’s mission statement is: “Through innovative teaching … ” That means we should be trying new things in our classrooms all the time, and while some may work, others might not. And it isn’t just in math and language arts, which are the subjects that tend to be the major things that get measured on standardized tests. True, they will need some of these skills to be successful, but standardized tests only measure one kind of skill and are designed for kids to identify one correct answer, rather than look at a novel way at solving a problem. Would you evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness by giving him/her a standardized test in pedagogy or observe how they interact with their students?

Sir Ken Robinson mentions that there are two factors that are facing us in the future – one is technology, and the other is the growing population and our limited resources. I mentioned imagining what computers would be like in 50 years (there are predictions that they may emulate an adult human by then), but what will our population be in the year 2050 (There are estimates of over 9 billion)? If we consumed like the people in the subsaharan do today (oil, food, etc.), he mentioned that there’d be enough to sustain about 15 billion people. If we consume like North Americans do today, we could sustain 1.2 billion people. We are already over 6.5 billion as we speak.

People who are going to solve these problems along with climate change will need to be good at math and science, but they will also need to be innovators. They will need to take risks, and try new things – as crazy as they may seem to some people.

What we also need to do is help students find and develop their passions. Yes, literacy and numeracy are important goals, but there are some who never discover high levels of achievement and personal satisfaction in the the thing that they do well naturally. In his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, he calls the element ” the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion.

At this point, he says something similar to Yong Zhao, we have to give these kids opportunities to develop their talents, whatever they may be. Sir Robinson is an incredible speaker, had a slide show prepared, and chose not to use any images. His talk was compelling enough.

He recalled an anecdote about Sir Paul McCartney who was told by his music teacher that he didn’t have much talent. George Harrison was in that class too and told something similar. Here was a teacher who had half the Beatles in his class, and missed it! What are we missing in our students.

If you look at the biographies of many people who changed the world. Many did well at school, but many did not. Somewhere along the way a teacher, peer, or parent, spotted this different aptitude and that child’s love for it, and the rest they say is history.

He summed up is talk by saying there were three things he thought were important to education of the future:

  1. Person (relationships) – People learn from people. Find the talent in your students. Help your students find the talent in each other.
  2. Diversity is crucial. Different cultures take different things for granted and our thinking is not homogenous. It leads to new ideas. We need to see the other as friend, not foe. If kids feel they are not good at something (like math or reading) they may inadvertently suppress their “element.”
  3. Economics – we need to stop investing in models of the past and look toward the future.

I could go on – I’m still grasping a lot of what he said. It was inspiring. So get into your classrooms, and if something isn’t working try thinking about it differently. Adapt and innovate. Visionaries don’t necessarily know what the future will hold, but they continually ask questions, make predictions, and try new things. Many have called Sir Ken Robinson a visionary in education.

His book is absolutely fascinating, and I’m only part way through it, but  I’m sure I will post more about it as I finish it up.

On a side note – One thing I enjoyed was that the sold out audience included the BC minister of education, administrators, teachers, parents, but al so high school students. Thanks for inviting me, CR.



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