Navigating Challenging Educational Waters
Bud Patel, M.A.
The collective wisdom and partnership between parents and schools
help young people navigate the wonderful waters ahead
Over the past decade, educational experts from near and far have grappled with revolutionary access to information and have, perhaps, taken the dangerous step of replacing “information” with “knowledge” or, better yet, “learning.” The impact of technological advancements on education has always caused shaking, pausing, and realignment. From the Guttenberg press to the ballpoint pen, the impact of invention has, more or less, been a positive force for learning. The Internet, tablets, and smartphones are just the latest seismic wave causing havoc to the educational infrastructure.
It is true that recent brain (neuroplasticity) research has provided more details of positive learning modalities and that 21st Century teaching and learning practices such as critical thinking, creativity, data-mining, and collaboration are becoming more common in classrooms round the world. Pat Bassett, former Executive Director of the National Association of Independent Schools, is likely the best equipped to discuss the changes he has witnessed at some of the great schools in North America. The list below is from one of his recent presentations and outlines the shifts in teaching and learning.
Like all change, early adopters were able to tweak, refine, and question some of the changes taking place. Are these flavors of the month or ways that are here to stay? Whatever the case, the rapidity of change has made educators review our practice and, frankly, force us to take a good hard look in the mirror.
I give you as an example, the independent boarding school not bound by the traditional class day. Erased are the artificial lines of opening and closing bells – of attendance taking and dismissal. How do such schools fit into this brave new world of online learning and MOOCs (massive open online courses)? The answer seems to be: Very well, indeed. Four simple, yet critical, elements make the difference.
1. Fostering teacher-student relationship
From elders to gurus to advisors, wisdom has always been passed on from one generation to the next through story. To make this transfer effective, trust is key to this relationship. Young people continue to crave deep and meaningful relationships with trusted adults that are often not their parents. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, coaches, instructors, neighbors, and teachers have taken on this most important role. It is where they go for counsel, praise and, most important, commitment.
2. Feeling part of a larger “tribe”
Some anthropologists believe that we are genetically predisposed to tribalism. To be complete, we crave the reassurance that our family, community, peer group, team, troupe, or school has our back. It is why we wave flags, join rotary clubs, and cheer, face paint and all, for our favorite team. We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
3. Striving for excellence
Pursuing, innovating, and discovering, again, are the human way. As a species, we have never stood pat in our desire to learn. As a result, we can hurl, in an organized fashion and in a steel tube, millions of people round the world and land safely 99.9999% of the time. Over the last century, we have increased Canadian life expectancy to 82 years old. However, we have also polluted our environment, created biological weapons, and widened the gap between rich and poor. Perfect, no—but striving, yes.
4. Ensuring that every student is known and loved
A key phrase that you hear at many independent schools is that the true measurement of a great school is that every child is known and loved. While this links back to the teacher-student relationship, the love quotient takes learning to another level. Some psychologists believe love balances our minds; that it causes endorphins to course through our body. Love, perhaps, is the answer.
Recently, I attended a Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) conference for heads and board chairs. Dr. Yong Zhang, an educational expert from the University of Oregon, revealed his study of global trends affecting the educational landscape. He discussed demographic shifts, the impact of technology, and the coddled North American millennial. Simply put, our job as parents and educators is to create independent people along three continua—financial, psychological, and social. His provocative approach was summed with a thud—he states that if your child is living in your basement after the age of 25, we, the school and parent, have failed! Strong words clearly measurable. While I'm not sure 25 is the magic chronological number, our job is to create independence rather than dependence; confidence rather than fear; and, citizenship rather than personal gain.
The collective wisdom and partnership between parents and schools will help young people navigate the challenging and wonderful waters ahead. Bon voyage!
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