Friday, October 14, 2011

Fit in or stand out. Not both.

This week has been parent conference week and over the past couple of days I've met with parents who have been amazed and excited about what their children can do with technology.  Parents of Grade 2 students, for example, who have made their own movies that show their understanding about healthy eating and the need to get enough sleep and exercise.  Parents of Grade 4 students who have looked at the shared Google Docs their children have used when conducting research in collaborative groups, the online posters their children have made to show their understanding of different biomes, and the way these students have then taken these posters and embedded them into their own blogs and reflected on what they have done and on what they could have done better.  The parents and I feel happy that the students are developing a lot of different IT skills that they can put into their "toolbox" and then decide which ones they want to use to best show what they know, understand and can do.  

Often during the parent meetings, parents ask what they can do to support their children at home. As we have moved away from software that lives on the students' own computers and work that lives on the servers at school, we have moved into the cloud where the students are using tools that are accessible anywhere and at any time.  I have stressed the importance of choice and of letting the students decide for themselves what they want to use.  I have talked with the parents about their children becoming responsible digital citizens who can use technology to investigate, organise information, communicate, collaborate and create.  We have discussed the necessity of encouraging their children to be original and critical thinkers and about the skills these students may need in the future.

As a result of this I've been thinking about how these qualities are the ones that our teachers need too, in order to change education and build a new model of 21st century education that will allow our students to develop these skills they will need.  Throughout Chapter 1 of Seth Godin's Linchpin there are phrases that spring out and stick in my mind.  For example yesterday I came across this:
Our society is struggling because during times of change, the very last people you need on your team are well-paid bureaucrats, note takers, literalists .... map followers and fearful employees.  The compliant masses don't help so much when you don't know what to do next.  What we want, what we need, what we must have are indispensable human beings.  We need original thinkers, provocateurs, and people who care ... passionate change makers willing to be shunned if it necessary for them to make a point.
This is the interesting bit for me.  Being passionate about change and being willing to be shunned for daring to think differently.  Or not really for daring to think differently, since nobody can really control what you think, but daring to actually voice these thoughts and rock the boat.  It's so much easier to fit in rather than to stand out.  It's much easier to just follow instructions.  It's hard to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Like scared civilians eager to do whatever a despot tells them, we give up our freedoms and responsibilities in exchange for the certainty that comes from being told what to do.
What is the merit of fitting in?  Well perhaps it's safe and comfortable, but for sure it doesn't often move us forward.  Daring to think differently, daring to do things that are different, these are the attributes we need to encourage in our students (and so also in our teachers).  Without these we don't move forward or stand out from the crowd.  

In any large international city there are probably a number of different international and national schools parents can choose to send their children to.  Many are pretty similar, often there might not be much to choose between them.  Yet they are rivals, competitors for students.  If one of these schools creates a new position, often the others do too.  If one offers an extensive extra-curricular programme, the others are under pressure to do so too.   It's often these small things that can sway parents to choose one school rather than another and sometimes it's just the fact that something exists that seems important, not really the quality.  A new programme might, initially, seem to stand out because it's innovative.  If all the schools adopt it then it just becomes the norm.   As Seth Godin says:
Yesterday's remarkable is today's really good and tomorrow's mediocre.  Mediocre is merely a failed attempt to be really good.
What The Linchpin is really arguing for is standing out.  And yet all too often we are not encouraged to stand out.   We are criticized for not fitting in.  In these circumstances, it seems, we are simply encouraging and rewarding mediocrity.

All quotes from Seth Godin's book Linchpin
Photo Credit:  Eggistentialism III by Mike Bitzenhofer AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

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