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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

Does Education Need a Software Update?

By Peter DeWitt — November 10, 2015 5 min read
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Why is it that in the tech world most people look forward to a software update, but in education we resist it?” Ray McNulty

We update our wardrobes...

Many of us update our haircuts...

We even update our furniture...

Do we update our teaching?

Many teachers throw out their lesson plan books each year in order to start the year with a fresh perspective. Other teachers throw out their lesson plan books in order to use more modern technologies. They go paperless and use Evernote and Google Docs.

But there are still teachers and principals who do not make any updates to their practices. And there are parents who believe that schools haven’t changed much from when they were in school. We have new teachers fresh out of pre-service programs who have spent many hours working hard to prepare for their future while they get jobs in schools that bring them back to the past.

Whether we always like them or not, updates are important. They cause us to think differently, and challenge us to step outside of our comfort zones. We struggle and learn through our own errors, and then find mastery...to the point that our struggles seem far, far away.

For example, when the announcement is made that a new iPhone is going to be released, people stand in line for hours. Many know the date that the new phone will be available. They mark their calendars, take a day off from work, and dream of the next thing they’ll be able to do on the phone that they paid several hundreds of dollars for...even though they may never had needed a new phone in the first place.

Sounds extreme but it happens. Perhaps you even know one of these people. Perhaps you even are ones of these people...

Let’s face it, recently even phone companies have updated their plans so people don’t have to wait two years for an upgrade, because those companies were being dropped by consumers who wanted to upgrade to the new iPhone every single year. Consumers are excited about change.

Why doesn’t that happen as often in education?

It’s not because schools have changed more than the technology industry over the years. Tech has been ever evolving for decades and decades. We know that many classrooms still look the same as they have for decades. This is not a new conversation for us. But Ray McNulty’s comment about updates that I used for the opening of this blog really has me thinking.

Updating Our Education Dial

Sitting across from McNulty is always a learning experience. He is innovative and inspires people to bring their best thinking to the table as the dean of the Education Department and Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). SNHU currently offers competency based programs through its College for America program and McNulty is developing competency based programs that provide badges after undergraduate and graduate students finish program requirements.

Why sit through hours of a class if we can already prove mastery?

He’s one of those people that you look forward to hearing what he will say next. I have felt like that since doing some presenting many years ago for the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). Now Ray and I sit on the TVAIC Board together.

McNulty raises a great point that we need to address. Why do so many of us look forward to the change that can take place on our devices, or a change to the devices themselves, and yet resist change that happens in our classrooms and schools? I sometimes wonder if even the most change-resistant educators love the updates that happen on their phone.

Is it possible that we resist change in education because it happens to us? Phone and software upgrades happen to us as well, so that can’t be it.

Is it possible that we resist change in the classroom because we feel so comfortable with our space that we want to stay within that comfort zone? That seems odd because we feel comfortable with our devices as well.

Is it possible that we resist change in the classroom because we are responsible for more than just ourselves? With software updates to our phones and computers we have to take responsibility for moving forward and it doesn’t always effect other people. When it comes to the changes we experience in education aren’t we responsible for communicating the education changes to students and parents as well?

The Culture of Updates

McNulty, who worked as a Senior Fellow with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, believes that technology has developed a culture of change, so people don’t just expect it...they embrace it. Consumers look forward to when their devices can do more than they presently do. This is a generalization of course because some of you may hate the updates that take place. However, you get used to them and even master them...after time.

Education has developed a different culture. In education we have not developed a culture of growth-inspired change as much as we have fostered a culture of accountability. Technology breeds creativity-inspired updates, and education seems to be forcing compliance-based updates that don’t lead to better outcomes.

Even with the influx of devices streaming into our schools, we still have a culture of compliance, so technology hasn’t made the impact on education as it should. We still have too many teachers talking too much as students sit in the classroom talking too little.

Instead of establishing a classroom culture where we foster learning from error, we have classrooms where “sit and get” is fostered. For some it seems as though getting the curriculum covered is more important than inspiring dialogue and self-assessed learning.

How can we find a balance between covering curriculum and stepping back to foster dialogue around self-assessed and collaborative learning?

In the End

The technology industry isn’t perfect and some upgrades have not been successful. However, we can say the same thing about education. Education has not always been successful in its upgrades either, which has led to not wanting to upgrade at all.

How do we learn some lessons from our reactions to the upgrades that the tech industry offer, and replicate that in our reactions to being asked to upgrade our own teaching and leading?

When our phones say they need to update software, we click accept and then we adapt. When a upgrade to our phones are available, we drive to the store on that day and exchange the old for the new. Perhaps it’s due to the time we have to get used to the changes, but somewhere along the way we don’t just accept them...we embrace them.

How can embody the same philosophy for education?

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Creative Commons photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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.