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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Are Ideals Really Ideal?

By Aaron Davis — January 06, 2014 4 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by Aaron Davis. Aaron is a middle years teacher in Melbourne, Australia.

Recently, as a part of the Ed Tech Crew Christmas Hangout, Darren Murphy posed the question, what would your ideal school be? It got me wondering, what does the talk of ideals really achieve?

Often discussions about the ideal school converge with the amalgamation of a diverse range of ideas and practises. Where there is not only a wide range of technology on offer, but it is ubiquitous. Where connections are made around the world. Where students are creators of original content that is published for authentic audiences. Where learning happens in open and flexible spaces, which have the ability to be manipulated to suite a range of needs and purposes. Where teachers are seen as lead-learners, that is facilitators and motivators who help students to manage their own learning. Where learning happens when it needs to happen, not necessarily when it is forced to happen. Whatever is included within this educational cocktail, it can just about be guaranteed that it is not usually found within the dominant status quo.

What was interesting about the responses from the various participants was that no one had actually experienced their ideal school. Although everyone had seen aspects of such learning, with different schools showing strengths in various areas, no one had actually witnessed the magical Shangri-la, that ideal school that encapsulates everything. What then is the purpose of such ideals? If they are lists of attributes that never actually exist in their entirety, what purpose do they serve? Should ideals be our barometer, our measuring stick of success or are they more a point of inspiration, those ideas that drives us towards greater things?

I came upon a great quote in my feed the other day from Rebekah O’Dell who said that, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” I think that this is a really good point. We should never limit our dreams. However, what are the use of dreams and ideals if all they do is set us up for perpetual failure? I am not saying that failure is a bad thing, but surely if there is little hope of success, isn’t it a little counter-productive.

Although it is important to dream and dream big, at some point our efforts need to turn to finding pragmatic solutions for the now. They need to be ideas and initiatives that respond to the problem at hand. Instead of calling for a revolution, our attention should be on how we can evolve education one change at a time.

Sometimes our desire to change education is beyond our means. Whether it be because we are not a part of leadership, there are no funds to support such a change, it does not fit within the school’s annual implementation plan, the list goes on. The challenge for us in this situation is often how we actually respond, just as much as what our eventual response is. Instead of baulking at the challenge, one answer is to break the problem down into its parts. In doing so, it is important to look at what it is that is trying to be evolved and consider whether there is anything that we can do to get one step closer towards our ideal.

Take for example the ideal of the global classroom, an environment where teachers and students connect and collaborate with others all over the world. For some this is a choice out of reach based on various decisions, whether it be because of the policy of the school, lack of resources or the need to get permission of parents. However, what is possible is to create a means to collaborate within school, creating space to share and celebrate outside of the classroom, providing staff and students with opportunity to learn together, whether it be across different year levels or learning areas. Although this may not be flattening the walls globally, it at least flattens the walls locally.

What is important in turning an ideal into some sort of reality is setting goals. A good criteria to support the development of goals is the SMART acronym. That is that the goal is specific, able to be measured, actually attainable, realistic and is bound by time. Associated with this, it is important to make explicit any steps, strategies and speed humps at the start, as well as reflect upon any failures and celebrate the successes along the way.

For instance, last year, having read quite a few people share about the successes associated with project-based learning, I really wanted to trial it in my class. So after looking at all the subjects that I taught, I decided that it would fit best with my Digital Publishing Elective, particularly in regards to the development of the school yearbook. From this point of view, focusing on a certain unit of work within a particular class meant that it fitted with all the different attributes of a SMART goal. In addition to this, choosing a subject where I was the sole teacher allowed me to easily manage the strategies and speed humps, as well as clearly manage the celebrations and reflections.

Not all change needs to be linked to a revolution, take for example Pernille Ripp’s fantastic list of simple ideas of how to re-energise the classroom after the break. With the new year having just rolled over, what is your educational resolution this year? What is something that you feel needs to change in education and what steps are you taking to change it?

Connect with Aaron on Twitter

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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