For the past several weeks, I have been researching hybrid schools and blended learning environments (a combination of virtual learning and traditional face-to-face instruction). My efforts are part of an exciting new opportunity to design and pilot a “bricks and clicks” program with the goal of integrating technology in a manner that will truly individualize student learning. An examination of several innovative public education programs/models has been cause for personal reflection on the direction of public education reform.
It is possible that the phrase “old habits die-hard” was coined in response to efforts at public educational reform. As I have been in the process of examining new and innovative solutions in the realm of virtual education, it has become apparent how engrained many of our current practices have become (I am as guilty of perpetuating this as anyone else). In many cases, we do things simply because it has always been done that way. We fail to consider what is in the best interest of our students–or worse, we choose to ignore things we know should change. This obviously applies to the instructional delivery models we use, but think about some of our other “old habits.”
- The traditional bell schedule
- Physical arrangement of classrooms - student desks, teacher desks, whiteboards
- Use of a 90, 80, 70, 60, 50 grading scale…or any grading scale for that matter
- Teacher evaluation models
- Professional development methods
- School hours – 8:00 – 3:00, etc.
- Discipline strategies
- Policies (don’t chew gum, don’t use cell phones, no running, raise your hand, etc.)
- The school calendar
- Concepts of how students learn
This list could go on. I am not arguing that all of these things are inherently bad, but how many of us would savor the thought of going into a faculty meeting to discuss each of these items with the objective of arriving at consensus? My guess is there would be some dissension. I would also be willing to bet that someone would say (or at least imply) something along this vein: “that’s what it was like when I went to school, and I turned out alright.” Unacceptable.
Those who follow #edchat (an education forum on Twitter) see daily reminders of the dedication, and innovation happening in our schools. Many of the participants are leaders in the implementation of educational technology–they are people who understand that decision-making should begin, and end, with the best interest of students in mind. These are individuals that realize the importance of creativity, innovation, empathy, problem-solving, and relationships. Their “complaint to innovate” ratio is extremely low.
Those of us involved in public education must be willing to accept that we may not only need to change old habits, we may need to completely rethink our current practices. All options must be on the table. Public education can be innovative, it can foster creativity, and it can provide purposeful learning opportunities for all students. The question is, are we willing to tackle the difficult issues that will make this possible? There are many success stories, but change isn’t easy–like teaching an old dog new tricks.