Under the Microscope

So I read Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath over the holiday break and it really got me thinking. What I love so much about Gladwell’s writing, and this book in particular, is that he calls into question so much of what we take for granted as truth, and it makes us think critically about things that we don’t often think critically about. It is so easy to go through life without stopping to question the “how and why” of something, and it’s comfortable for us to “go with the flow”, and to do things because it’s the way that they’ve always been done…and this makes me think of education. I also just recently read a couple of blog posts from two international educators who have inspired me over the years, and these posts again made me wonder about the “how and why” of our current and traditional educational model.

Back in December, Bambi Betts wrote a piece titled, “On Average” for The International Educator on-line website and it questioned our current grading policies in schools. The fact that we average out a student’s grades over a particular period of time, and report it out as a commentary on their level of achievement is in many ways strange, but it’s something that schools are continuing to do simply because it’s the way that it has always been done…but is it the right thing to do? The second post, written a couple of weeks ago by a friend and mentor of mine Andy Ferguson, discussed school culture, and the many things that go into making a school who and what they are. He talks about the definition of school culture as “the way we do things around here”, and he eloquently discusses how important it is to question current practice and to think critically about whether or not the “way that we do thing around here” are actually the right things to do. All of this, in a round about way makes me think of the current winter Olympics, and the individual athletes who are relentless in their desire to take themselves and their sport to the next level, and to find ways through experiment and change to become the best that they can be…and again it makes me think of education.

I’ve been wondering lately if we as educators are doing enough to question and push back on the way that things have been done over the years, and to really think critically about why we’re still doing them. Things like assessment practices, grading and reporting practices, the way we deliver curriculum, the way we hire and retain faculty and the reasons behind these decisions, timetabling and the scheduling of classes, and the types of programs that we offer to our kids. There’s so much that is currently being done in schools that looks exactly like the way we’ve always done things, and I’m not so sure that these are the right things anymore. I know many of you are thinking the same thing, and have probably have been pushing back on the standard for awhile with some success but I’m not sure that it’s enough. I don’t have any concrete answers about next steps but I have some ideas, and I’m keen to put our current practices under the microscope so to speak to see if we are doings things for the right reasons, or if we’re doing them simply because it’s the way that it’s always been done.

I’m asking you this week to look at your own programs, as well as your approaches to assessment and grading and curriculum development, and start to push back. Let’s begin to openly discuss some opportunities for change, or upgrades to our current practices so that there’s no question that they’re still the right things to do. Let’s think critically about the “how and why” of our current educational model and see if we can’t take a page from the Olympic athletes and do what we can to take our sport to the next level. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week………
Simply pushing harder within the old boundaries will not do.
– Karl Weick

Book Suggestion – Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath
Join the Movement for Change –
Feel Good Olympic Video –
Recent Educational Research Review Articles –
American Educational Research Association –
The International Educator – On Average Blog Post