Alec Couros shared this on Facebook:

Every “new” revolution or trend in education is inevitably accompanied by the critics who wisely note “We tried this back in the x0’s.

If you want change to happen and to stick, engage your historians to better understand why things failed the first time around.

I then shared his post on my Facebook wall and added this:

When I read this I think of Dweck and Growth vs Fixed Mindset. Yes some things ‘come back’, but there can be innovation (and research) since the last time.

For example, much of the ‘learn at your own pace’ of 20 years ago meant ‘here is the (printed) package of work so that you can move ahead’ (on your own). Now with online resources, discussion forums, YouTube, access to research and experts… that ‘own pace’ can be far more collaborative and richly supported. Even more so in a learning environment that focuses on competencies & skills, rather than content.

(Image by Kathy Sierra)

So in this, and many other examples, it’s not like ‘we did this back in the day’… it’s fundamentally different. It still warrants critique & criticism when it’s due, but it doesn’t warrant dismissal because ‘we’ve already tried it’.

In his book, The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros says,

“If we are going to help our students thrive, we have to move past “the way we have always done it,” and create better learning experiences for our students than we had ourselves. This does not mean replacing everything we do, but we must being willing to look with fresh eyes at what we do and ask, “Is there a better way?” We would expect the same mindset from our students, and, as educators, that question is the first step on the path to a better future for education.”

Does it really matter if a version of what’s new has surfaced before? Or does our mindset, and our willingness to improve, matter more?

Also published on Medium.

4 comments on “Been there, done that? Actually, no.

  1. Innovation is of course always limited by the “buy in” of those involved. Where the innovation is valid, this often becomes mute because it didn’t resonate earlier with teachers who were asked to become early adopters. This speaks to a fundamental problem that I believe hinders modern education. Generally speaking, those who go into teaching are the ones who weren’t sickened by the classroom chalk dust (figuratively speaking). They were comfortable with the pedagogies and methodologies of the education they received, AND represent a portion of the 20% who experienced affirmation through their subsequent academic success. They shared an appreciation for the education they were getting in much the same way as their teachers did. We put THOSE students back into the classroom as teachers. What we really need in the classroom are those 80% of the students who were disengaged, frustrated, and ready to move on with an education that was more congruent with their contemporary needs and interests. THESE are the individuals more likely to be more receptive to the use of innovative approaches, and the need to teach to the 80% of their class(es) who are NOT living in the past. Until we see a fundamental change in how we select those who are going to guide students, I’m not hopeful that “innovation” in education isn’t going to be much more that the simple recycling of ideas from the past until we find teachers for whom had a measure of success with as students. Much more to say David (as usual), but will leave it at that and get back to report cards.

    1. Greetings Gord,

      Having spent the past 10 years or so connected to you in learning spaces like this, I know that we can agree that change has been very slow (compared to the potential of what’s possible). That said, I work with some pretty amazing educators ranging in age from 24 to 50+, and I’m not sure it is an issue of ‘THOSE’ students coming back into the classroom, but I do think that there is a systemic resistance to change. I’m reminded of the middle image in this post:

      I think we need to create a culture of empowered leaders and learners… at all levels (especially students and teachers). Mindset over skill sets. I think too many people in the system don’t believe they have a voice to make a difference and if that changes, we can create the learning, adapting culture we want to see.

      Maybe it’s blind optimism, but if we blame ‘THOSE’ teachers, then we are creating an environment where they are the problem, when actually I believe that THEY are the solution… As long as they feel empowered enough to make a difference. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think it is as much about ‘getting the right people on the bus’ as it is getting everyone that’s on the bus to feel like they have a say in where the bus is going. Right now, I don’t think that’s the case.

      1. Drat! Slain by the “Curse of Succinct” once again. Ha. You are right to point out that any generalization about “THOSE” anyone is bound to be riddled with many exceptions. Myself, I more often than not feel incredibly and completely humbled by many of the educators that I work with, and I’ve no doubt that the nature of your job likely tends to expose you to the interest of many of “THOSE” magnificent teachers that are so deserving of everyone’s complete respect. My sincere apologies if my attempts to focus on some, seemed a general comment about all. A query for you though…have you asked these great teachers about their personal experience in school? Having done so myself, I “tend to find” that the exceptional teachers seldom sailed smoothly through school. This doesn’t mean that anyone should believe that this is a prerequisite to be a good teacher, but perhaps it plays a role in being amenable to accepting and adopting needed educational change.

        Another disadvantage of putting forth any opinion is that it’s often unrecognized that it, of necessity, comes from the unique perspective of the those who hold it. I recently sat through a rather large conference of teachers who arrived at the consensus that the improvement of students’ cursive handwriting was vital to preparing them for their futures. Seriously. I expect some disbelief by your readers because they are the ones that read your blog. The ones that would not do so may not even be a majority of educators, but given a say in the direction of the bus of education you speak of, their numbers are still significant enough to effect the need for ongoing compromise. Some might argue that they play a role in keeping the ship steady. I’m not opinionated enough to say they are wrong, but can only speculate that many of these might be the ones unready to embrace innovation. No blame to be assigned here except perhaps for this, if a school district wants to embrace innovation, they need to consider whether a process of hiring those who were well-served by a traditional education is the best approach. Having said that, the traditional education served me well. So I think there’s enough ambiguity here to absolve me of any finger pointing at all. LOL (At least I hope so.) ?

        Really have to get back to work. Hope the clarification has redeemed me somewhat. I value your respect greatly David.


        1. The respect is mutual Gord,

          If we didn’t have this very dialogue, if we weren’t willing to put our ideas ‘out here’ and be willing to make mistakes and then course correct, well then we’d probably be more like ‘THOSE’ teachers you first discussed.

          Not sure what to say about cursive handwriting being vital for a student’s future success, other than I can’t write cursive beyond the ability of a student in Grade 2 or 3, and I’m not convinced that has held this ‘old man’ back too much. It is sad when large groups of people get stuck focusing on skills and not competencies.

          I was an ‘average’ kid that could achieve an ‘A’ or 2 if I was interested in a topic, but I didn’t thrive in school. Right through university, I would get ‘A’s and ‘C’s with very few ‘B’s, fully dependent on my interest. Looking back, I got what I put into school, but I would not classify myself at all as ‘a good student’, and I don’t know if a better education would have changed that much?

          I would still beg to differ with your idea that, “if a school district wants to embrace innovation, they need to consider whether a process of hiring those who were well-served by a traditional education is the best approach”… but can’t argue with the idea that many may still not want to embrace innovation. The question is ‘why’?

          Because they don’t feel empowered? Because they don’t get to collaborate with others who see what’s possible? Because they have a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset? Because their teacher education program put them with a teacher that had a fixed mindset? The list can be endless, but while it could include: ‘Because they came from a traditional education program that worked for them’, I’m not sure that would be a predominate measure of their ability to be innovative vs stuck teachers.

          As always, I appreciate your comments and that you challenge my thinking, thank you for your comments Gord!

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