The Timeless John Dewey…

So we’re currently going through the exciting process of creating a master facilities plan at our school, and the opportunity that we have to transform our environment into something truly inspirational has us all dreaming. This exercise, coupled with a thought provoking TED talk by Grant Lichtman that I watched the other day, has led me to think deeply about what it is that we really want for our students with regards to their education…

I spent the week doing a lot of research into progressive education, innovative school design, experiential learning, and the idea of personalizing the learning for all students, and much of it kept me coming back to the thoughts and writings of John Dewey. It’s interesting to me that so much of what’s happening with the current paradigm shift in education around the world aligns with Dewey’s philosophical stance, and it just shows how truly ahead of his time he was.

Dewey wrote much about the power and importance of experiential learning (learning by doing, outdoor education, hands-on experiences), and how the teacher should be more of a facilitator or guide in a child’s learning experiences rather than the “sage on the stage”, which sadly became the traditional approach. If we look at innovative schools around the world, and the incredible work that many leading schools and their research and development teams are currently doing to help transform what “school” looks like these days, we can see a shift in not only how we write and deliver curriculum, but how we design the learning spaces and environments to best fit the individual needs of all learners.

Things like creativity spaces or maker spaces, flexible learning spaces that are not grade level or subject specific, project based and service inspired initiatives that drive the curriculum, collaborative opportunities, a focus on design and visible thinking, a shift away from averages or grades to feedback and alternative assessments, and so much more…all of this I think would make John Dewey very proud, and probably get him to mumble, “What took you all so long?”

I have to say that I’m inspired by what’s happening at so many schools around the world, and it looks like the tide has turned and the paradigm shift is beginning to take hold. While many schools (maybe the majority still) continue to be firmly entrenched in the traditional school model of silo classrooms, grade level bands, traditional grades and assessments, teacher lectures, subject specific and content focused curriculum, and environments that scream 1985, there are so, so many that have moved on and made a profound statement that it’s not only possible but really, an educational imperative.

I’m very excited to be an educator in this day and age, and I’m even more excited to be in a position to dream about how we can transform our own community into something innovative and inspirational. I’m passionate about re-inventing school as you can probably tell, and I’m proud to see so many educational leaders working hard to create change for their communities. I know it’s messy work, and I know it takes time, but like Grant Lichtman says in his talk, it’s more uncomfortable than hard. It’s also easy to talk and talk and talk about this as a community, but a very different thing to actually bring the vision to life…we’ve been talking about this shift for a long time as a global community and I’m empowered to see the schools around the world who have found the courage to act. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the week….

One thought on “The Timeless John Dewey…”

  1. During my sabbatical year in 2010/11, I visited the Center for Dewey Studies in Carbondale, Illinois. My inquiries were into the state of creativity and play and I structured my final report around Dewey’s quotes and vision (and, I might add, one quote from Bob Keeshan, an educational philosopher better remembered as Captain Kangaroo). Dewey saw clearly what others are only now seeing, that the child has by nature an inquiring mind and our job, as educators, is not to impede that natural curiosity but to sustain it, nourish it, and provide options for growth.

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