It is easy to get caught up in the routine of what’s asked of us, day to day, and week to week. Everything around us may seem quite normal: our habits, what’s for dinner, and who’s on the other end of that phone call you just got done with. But if you have just a few minutes to stop that routine and close your eyes and think for a few minutes, consider what today is like compared to last month. Then go back further. Last year, and maybe 10 years ago. What’s changed?
For me, I spent a lot less time on my home computer. By my own standards, it’s old (I bought it in 2009) but I don’t really see the need to upgrade. I don’t watch TV hardly ever through cable; I’ll watch what specifically I want through YouTube or Netflix. I read a lot more written today by people who I don’t know but neither do you, which is to say, I spend more time reading news sites by unnamed authors and Tweets by people who aren’t household names. I don’t have a lot of change in my pockets anymore. And at work, I’m more often in schools now than I have been before.
I also realize I’ve been thinking like this a lot less because I’m caught up in that daily routine. I have a shelf of books waiting to be read, if I can only put down my illuminated, internet-connected screens. (It’s so bad, in fact, that I thought one evening of buying the ebook versions just so I could keep using the device.) Humor aside, this past week I took a “day off” from my normal routine and went to a conference. I presented. I watched our principal, Tina McCay, get recognized as a significant change agent. And then I listened to the final speaker, and on the drive back from Williamsburg, a bunch of different ideas, feelings, and emotions all came together into focus. It was really nice to take a few minutes–maybe a little more than a few–to think.
I looked up this video, which in the “2.0” version, I showed when I keynoted a convocation for Goochland many years ago. This is 4.0, but still dated. It came out the same year as my home computer, 2009:
And even though the numbers are off and the latest trends have been missed, it still is a reminder that if we stop and look around, things are changing.
Our afternoon keynote speaker is well-known blogger Scott McLeod and he engaged us with some bold ideas (in today’s educational landscape). The preceding link challenges us as educators with some provocative questions. I thought I’d try my hand at a few short answers for some of his questions. That said, these aren’t the right answers. I invite you to think about them too.
What can we do to increase the cognitive complexity of students’ day-to-day work so that they are more often doing deeper thinking and learning work?
> We need to stop asking questions that have single right answers. We all need to think about going up a level or two to get a bigger view of what we’re teaching and move away from the “standards” level and to the “bigger picture” level. When students are interested, they should dive deep enough into the details so that our standards aren’t left behind.
What can we do to better incorporate digital technologies into students’ deeper thinking and learning work in ways that are authentic, relevant, meaningful, and powerful?
> We need to ensure that all students have access to digital technologies. We need to teach students how powerful these tools are, then let them figure out how to use them to find answers, develop solutions, and invent new things.
What can we do to give students more agency and ownership of what they learn, when they learn, how they learn, and how they show what they’ve learned?
> We can do a lot in school to move into the role of a facilitator, but I think to really nail this one, we need to involve our parents more than ever before. We need everyone to be thinking about the power of learning and finding “ah-ha!” moments each and every day. To do that, we have to inspire our community to value discovery about our world.
How do we balance competing (often unproductive) demands from other fronts so that we can do this important work?
> We, as a school community, and as a district, need to ground ourselves in the values, the vision, and mission we believe in. That said, if the vision and mission are not well-aligned with state and federal expectations for public education, we’d be in trouble. But I know ours are in alignment and goes beyond the standards. We’ve aimed higher and to get there won’t necessarily be easy. But we all need help focusing on the most essential and important things day to day.
The last part is perhaps the most important. We need to help ourselves and one another maintain focus on the most essential and important things every day. For me, that means I need to make space for the time to think, reconsider, reflect, and align my work compass. When we do that, we should not only know where we are, but where we are headed.