Why Do Schools Need To Change?
by Terry Heick
We have for years now sought to be progressive; Let us instead seek a ‘post-progressive’ era of learning.
‘Progressive’ as a description of a ‘way of doing things’ immediately suggests the existing, non-progressive ways. That is, it’s a comparative term and immediately in need of reference points to be understood. It’s the same with ‘innovative.’ ‘Creative,’ too.
What we have the capacity and extraordinary need to seek is a post-progressive system of education–one that doesn’t start with schools and classrooms and tests and then seeks to be progressive in that limited context and sense.
Rather, how about something post-progressive? Something that sheds the fake gleam of innovation and technology for the sake of technology and absurd notions of ‘academic excellence’ and school improvement rather than student improvement because that’s the way we’ve always done things.
This is still not clean sheet learning and system design, which means it’s limited and likely for the breakneck pace of change in the 21st century and thus insufficient.
But because post-progressiveness is a kind of middle ground between what we have now and what we can become, it is more accessible–and for the majority of the statements, anyway–mostly practical to you and your classroom in the here and now.
Some of these are ‘modern’ concerns–that is, issues and challenges that are chronologically recent in cause, emphases, or urgency.
Others are timeless and universal, having been matters of school and public education design from the beginning.
15 Reasons It’s Time For A Post-Progressive Education
1. Every student is unique.
Which doesn’t just suggest differentiation, personalized learning, and diverse knowledge demands, but different reasons to learn, unique interests, passions, and affections–the latter suggesting what they do with all the former will also be unique.
A progressive system of education would understand that and use technology and skilled teachers to honor this reality.
A post-progressive system of education would be built around that idea. In fact, it would fail and look limp and awkward without this incredible diversity much like a library would look ridiculous with one book (i.e., a standardized education), difference volumes of the same book (i.e., a progressive education).
2. Schools serve people, people don’t serve schools.
Put another way, don’t ask a student, “How did you do in school today?” but rather “How did the school do on you?”
3. Personalized learning is achievable with existing technology.
While it depends on your definition of personalized learning, the ability to adjust the pace and delivery and complexity of content is possible. And further, the potential to create unique learning pathways through a given curriculum has always been there.
That we can now publish thinking and progress and ideas and collaboration and evidence of learning, and give and receive learning feedback in real-time–or, at worst, far more quickly and authentically than a teacher can grade papers–makes it viable in many forms.
4. Understanding comes in many forms.
Deep understanding is reflected by self-initiated and often creative types of transfer of knowledge. When students create new ideas from multiple sources of information, they’re impossibly embedded in the organic process of learning.
There are many, many learning taxonomies that provide a framework for students to acquire and demonstrate understanding. That they performed poorly on a test could mean that they ‘don’t understand.’
It also could be said that the test failed to uncover what it was they actually understood.
A progressive education seeks multiple ways to assess a student’s mastery of content.
A post-progressive education seeks–and is ‘aware of’–multiple ways of knowing and understanding in addition to personalized assessment and adds to that the consideration of the utility of that knowledge for each student in their own ‘place.
5. ‘Teaching’ is inefficient and ineffective.
Teachers are guides and coaches and content experts and caretakers and data analysts and collaborators and charismatic ring leaders and a million other things.
They are not just ‘over-worked,’ but rather are tasked with doing the impossible. These valiant attempts not to be are unsustainable–for the students and themselves. A ‘post-progressive’ teacher would be empowered, not replaced.
6. Affection is among the highest forms of knowing.
To ‘know’ something is to be aware of its past. Where it’s been and how it’s been used and misused and what it needs now and how it best might best be cared for in the future. That’s true for people and relationships and work and knowledge of content and ideas.
And these are all indicators of affection.
7. Inquiry is both a cause and effect of learning.
Learning, then, is cyclical. It is recursive and spiraling and rhizomatic and chaotic and flowing.
Inquiry shouldn’t merely be bridled to bring a student to content mastery, but rather treated as an end in and of itself. And content can be used to cause inquiry as much as inquiry can be used to cause mastery of content.
8. Classrooms are terrible places to learn.
It’s fine to gather here in the same way that employees might gather at a coffee shop before heading out into the field.
Classrooms can also be geographically convenient common ground, which makes them wonderful anchors for movement within a shared geographical area. But as the primary place to sit-and-get and try and test and read and write and group and gather and so on, day in and day out, year after year?
A progressive education would seek to move students into communities through mentoring, place-based education, and even digital tools and spaces.
A post-progressive education would see a school as a mere resource, and seek to help students merge physical and digital communities to everyone’s benefit.
9. Teachers and algorithms should drive data-driven teaching.
This one is mostly inaccessible, unfortunately. We’re just not there yet.
But to the extent that you are able, try to simplify the data in quantity and form because teachers and ‘data-teams’ are limited in their capacity of data interpretation, and most curricula and curriculum are limited in their flexibility.
A progressive education system uses extraordinary technology to achieve products or collaborations or access that was previously impossible or even unthinkable.
A post-progressive education, technology is invisible, with its best–and constantly emerging–attributes harnessed to improve the lives of students and the health of their communities.
10. Curiosity and inquiry are messy and difficult to standardize.
And these are hallmarks of understanding.
11. The pace of change in society must at least be matched by the pace of change in education.
Put another way, should at least be matched by the innovation within education.
12. ‘Content’ is dated the moment it is ‘taught.’
This makes content-based curriculum–math, science, social studies, etc.–inherently problematic.
13. Knowing the value of knowledge is more important than the knowledge itself.
And further, can be considered as its own kind of knowledge/wisdom.
14. Unlearning is a kind of learning.
It might also be said that unlearning is the new learning.
15. ‘Geniuses’ work through their gifts.
‘Geniuses’ work through their gifts, rather than to correct their deficiencies. And when they are looking to learn something new or improve an understanding or skill, they work either through that gift, or bolstered through the confidence of that gift. Self-efficacy and self-expression are part and parcel to their entire identity even if, psychologically, they may be a ‘tortured genius’ crippled be a sense of self-doubt.
In lieu of any insecurity or doubt, they feel the need–often an insatiable urge–to create things because they feel like they can. This stands in contrast do working to correct weaknesses because they feel like they should.
A progressive education corrects all weaknesses and bolsters deficiencies.
A post-progressive education allows minds to bloom and grow and become.
A Post-Progressive Education: 15 Statements To Shape Your Teaching; cartoon image property of Bethesda/Fallout 4