When Hamlet says that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” he isn’t too wide of the mark. We can think ourselves into all sorts of nonsense if we work hard enough. There are still Flat Earthers, people who think global warming is a myth, and that JFK was killed by the CIA (well, actually the jury may be out on that one…). Some people in my profession – teachers and parents – see the internet as a similarly polarising issue. On the one hand we have the advocates who argue that the internet has democratised access to knowledge and information and has fundamentally revolutionised the role of the teacher. On the other hand we have the opponents who see the internet as an unregulated hotbed of disinformation that undermines the pivotal role of the teacher as guardian of learning. Just to be clear, and in a spirit of full disclosure, I fall into the first of these two positions, and I would like to say why.
Good schools (and good teachers) are in the futures business.
Schools do not produce stuff for the here and now. Our job is to help build the future, one learner at the time. What we do now should be as relevant as we can make it, but the gauge of what is relevant must be defined by what learners will need for the future, not what they used to need in the past.
Good schools (and good teachers) genuinely put learners first.
Today’s young people live in a world that is saturated with technology – and it is developing at an ever-increasing rate. We all have a duty to make sure that today’s learners grow up as adept, skilful, discriminating and ethical in their use of the tools available to us. That means each and every teacher has that self-same duty. It cannot be outsourced to Tech Support. It isn’t somebody else’s job. Simply put, if you do not help young people to develop their use of technology for learning in your classroom then you are not putting their needs ahead of your own. Likewise schools that do not find ways to invest in technology cannot be said to be genuinely meeting the needs of learners in the 21st century.
Good schools (and good teachers) are excited, entrepreneurial learners.
There is not a teacher preparation system in the world that has prepared teachers for the world in which we now live. Back in 1987 when I qualified as a teacher, nobody knew what was coming. Only the occasional wild-eyed futurist could have foreseen the revolution that Web 2.0 would bring. But now it is here and we need to deal with it. The way in which we do this says a lot about our preparedness to be part of the revolution. If we take the path of suspicion, mistrust and denial, deluding ourselves that we are “holding on to traditional best practice” (sic), then our profession has a problem. We each need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset committed to taking personal responsibility for our own learning. We need to embrace our professional duty to be problem-solvers and inquirers. People who wait around to be “upskilled” will not only miss the boat but they will undermine the learning needs of each and every student they share time with
Good schools (and good teachers) identify and hold on to fundamental principles.
In a world where change is a constant it has never been more important to identify and hold on to the fundamental principles upon which we believe schools are based: schools put student learning first; effective teaching is a thoughtful, planned activity; intellectual rigour isn’t a passing fad; and skills and values trump content every single time (but it is a fallacy to think it is one or the other).
Finally, good schools (and good teachers) practice what they preach.
If we want our young people to grow up as creative, knowledgeable, skilful, ethical, technologically adept inquirers then we have to have those self-same expectations of ourselves and each other. And that is a big ask. In education we face probably one of the biggest challenges any profession has ever faced: reinvention.
If you are reading this as a teacher or an administrator in schools, which side of the divide do you fall on? And before you start to prevaricate, there really are only two sides: you can’t be a little bit pregnant. Then again, you can’t get pregnant by kissing either, but is doesn’t stop some people thinking you can, or that the earth is flat, or that global warming is a myth, or that JFK was killed by…