You’re Not The Only Teacher In The Room

The theory of connectivism is a learning theory for the digital age that:

  • believes that knowledge can reside in non-human artifacts.
  • thrives in an environment that values diversity, autonomy, and freedom.
  • suggests that learning occurs when ideas are connected.

Is this an accurate description of our current education system? Are we more concerned about collecting ideas than connecting them? Does the role of “the teacher” as we know it, need to change?  I wish I had all the answers!

I am fearful that education won’t change until the teachers in the room realize that they are not the only teachers in the room. We have all heard of the adage “Sage on the stage, guide on the side” and most teachers would gravely nod and agree, but is this the reality for students once behind classroom doors?

The field of education has been slow to recognize both the impact of new learning tools and the environmental changes in what it means to learn. –George Siemens

I was surprised (and yet not) to see that this article was written ten years ago. It seems like the ideas around the need for change in education have been shared but in many cases, have fallen on deaf ears.  It is almost impossible to read any kind of educational literature that doesn’t highlight the increasingly digital and connected nature of ‘school’ and yet we still seem to resist the change that is upon us.

The digital world lowers barriers to learning, provides opportunities for peer teaching, allows students the chance to make their own choices, learn at their own pace, delve deeper into topics that ignite their passions and connect to others in ways that were previously impossible. Living and Learning With New Media showcases many of the ways in which youth interact digitally and the impact this has on the way they learn and the way they differentiate between ‘life’ and ‘learning’ (it’s one and the same).

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Einstein figured out that providing the right conditions for students is the best way to promote, encourage, and support learning. This math teacher came to the same conclusion once he gave up his teacher-centred ways and focused more on a student-centred approach to teaching. He shares that the “integration of technology into every subject and at all grade levels allows unprecedented levels and types of exciting collaboration and learner to learner connectivity.”

One of my favorite authors on the subject of technology and 21st Century education is Marc Prensky.  In this ASCD article, Marc talks about kids ‘powering down’ when they come to school – and not just their devices.  He talks of students in the past as ‘coming into the light’ when they went to school – enlightened by the knowledge that was imparted upon them.  Today he describes students as being ‘born into the light’ -surrounded by and connected to knowledge from birth.

I found the readings this week to be encouraging and inspiring at yet at the same time, I found myself increasingly bogged down by what our education system isn’t. The problems, the faults, the gaping holes that need filling.  Then I read some more of Presnky’s work in which he reminds us of what an exciting time it is to be alive and offers the following advice to teachers:

Today’s kids are fledglings on the ledge of a new, and towering future and our job is help them leave the aerie in a way that allows them to soar.The most important thing any teacher can say to any kid in our new context is “Surprise me!”

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You Already Have Permission

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The more reading I have been doing about technology integration and information literacy, the more I am realizing that we need to start redefining what we mean by “teaching”.  That sounds simple and obvious, but hopefully, it also sound necessary.

Most of us have an idea in our heads about what it means when someone says to us “I am a teacher”. We instantly picture (more than likely) our own teachers from years ago.  But is that the teacher of today?

What if someone said to you, “I like to go mountain biking”.  What comes to mind.  Take a look at this amazing video and see if that is what you pictured:

Danny MacAskill is redefining mountain biking.  Of course there are elements of what most of us know about mountain biking but he certainly challenges the perception of what can and can not be done on a bicycle (and I love the way he deals with fences in his way too!).

How can we be more like Danny as teachers?  How can we challenge the boundaries of teaching?  How can we find new ways to approach (and conquer) the ‘fences’ in our jobs?

I would hazard to guess that we can do much the same as Danny more than likely did:

1. Set audacious goals for ourselves.

2. Enlist the support of those who believe in our ideas.

3. Try, Try, Try.

Danny didn’t wait for some politician, board member, motivational speaker, or author to redefine the possibilities of mountain biking.  He just used his gut instincts, his passion, determination, and drive to elevate the thing he cares deeply about.

Will you do the same? You already have permission. 

Postscript:  While writing this, I couldn’t help but think of one of my mentors, Will Northrop of What-if-Concepts.  Will does amazing work with empowering people who inspire by connecting remarkable ideas.  His blog is a great source of daily encouragement, motivation, and thought-provoking ideas. Check it out!