Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Education is the passport to the future...

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. –   Malcom X

The past 25 years have seen dramatic changes in our culture and society. Twenty-five years ago the internet was in its infancy and we considered our country invulnerable as our Twin Towers still stood and the spate of school shootings from Columbine to Sandy Hook had not yet stolen our safety and innocence. Globalization, 911, the internet, the Great Recession and the ever increasing pace of technological advances make this a much different world than it was in 1992, yet our public schools are still very much mired in the policies of the past. The current concept of “education reform” has not evolved and is not designed to truly transform public education; it merely continues to add additional levels of bureaucracy to an already overburdened system, thus inhibiting necessary change in our public schools.

In reflecting upon the changes occurring in our society it often appears that education continues to lag behind. Our country is in the midst of a cultural shift the likes of which we haven’t experienced since the industrial revolution. The organization, structures and practices prevalent in our public school system today are largely an outgrowth of and a response to the needs of an industrialized society. The problem is that society has now changed and our educational system has not kept pace.

Public K-12 schools struggle with making the necessary transformation inhibited in that process by the very policies designed by our legislators to address this challenge. These policies and practices are often mired in the industrial past and not designed to support the development and incorporation of the new skills necessary to succeed in our information driven, 21st century, digital world.

The challenges being experienced are not limited to K-12 education. The most straightforward and dramatic way to speed this necessary transition in public education would be to change the way we train our teachers. If you walk into most higher education classrooms it’s like taking a trip back in time to 1992. There is often little technology available for professors and even less incorporated into the learning environment. Similar to the K-12 policy environment,  in higher education many of the alleged “reform” strategies often focus on more and better accountability provisions than they do on transforming practice. In order to change this trend resources must be allocated to support the goal of providing access to technology and professional development for professors to support the transition to a more digital learning environment. I say this not to criticize, but to point out the need to train our teachers with the most up to date, cutting edge tools and instructional strategies possible. This change is essential if we are to advance necessary transformation of the practices in our schools.

New teachers bring with them to their schools a wealth of energy and enthusiasm for their profession which often helps to invigorate the educators they work with. Every school community needs a balance of energetic new staff along with veteran teachers whose experience and knowledge can support and provide direction to younger colleagues. Those new teachers, trained in the most cutting edge practices with the ability to leverage the power of technology by incorporating daily digital supports into their instructional practices have the potential, through the positive examples they set, to work as change agents to transform the educational environment in a school. However, first they must come to the profession with the tools, skills and knowledge to make such an impact. It is incumbent upon higher education institutions and teacher training programs to take the appropriate steps ensure their graduates have access to vital resources in order to acquire those essential skills.

The student of today demands an educational environment where the skills and passion they bring to the classroom community are recognized and incorporated into the teachers' instructional practices. If we are to adequately prepare our students for life in a 21st century global society, education must weave digital and traditional instructional strategies together into a comprehensive approach to teaching and learning. As we move into the 21st century we must build within our students the skills necessary to achieve in this rapidly changing global environment. We must encourage collaboration and the development of critical thinking skills. Rote memorization is not enough. As Einstein once stated, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” We must work to inspire creativity and innovation, training our students to apply what they know to novel situations.

In order to accomplish those goals outlined above we must have teachers trained in the most appropriate skills to support that transition. We need to stop pointing fingers and assigning blame, but rather work together to move our educational system forward. Access to technology and incorporation of digital learning skills into higher education programs that train and prepare our new teachers is an essential part of this process. It is time for the practice of training new teachers to evolve and adapt to this new reality. Through this endeavor, K-12 and higher education working together can transform our system to one that is reflective of the needs of today’s students and world.