Monday, September 15, 2008

Swinging at the Pendulum

Those of us who have been teaching for awhile are quite familiar with education's "swinging pendulum." We’ll probably agree that the “edupendulum” has come to symbolize a never-ending cycle of minimally impactful “changes” in the schools. The pendulum has become an icon in our profession. Educators have come to accept it as an inevitable tenet of our business. The time has come, however, for the edupendulum to be examined and exposed for what it is. It is an enemy in the battle for school reform.

You see, most teachers don’t trust the pendulum. They trust it so little that without prompt or provocation veteran teachers indoctrinate “newbies” to the capriciousness of the pendulum. It is identified as a force that powers the constant ebb and flow of education fads and trends. It is blamed for swinging teacher’s attention from one counterproductive craze to another. Unfortunately, the pendulum has conditioned our teachers to sabotage “change efforts.” It is a problem of our own making. We’ve not always been selective about the tools we've introduced to our teachers. We’ve allowed societal pressures, eager vendors, ambitious leaders and funding cycles to drive “killer apps” and startling "innovations" into our classrooms. We’ve insisted that educators use them. We’ve cajoled their positive attitudes. Then, we watch in dismay as a vast majority of teachers quietly retreat to their classrooms where they continue to do what they believe to be best for students. They teach as they were taught.

It is easy to understand why so many seasoned teachers are leery of educational "change." Because we all understand the pendulum phenomenon, why then are we surprised when educators view the "21st century skills" as one more in a series of pendulum swings? Well, we aren't all that surprised but, in this matter, we have to be deeply concerned. Why? Because the skepticism that educators bring to the 21st century skills is becoming a major barrier to the progress of our students and our nation. For the first time in the history of our profession, the reluctance of educators to embrace a change is actually threatening the future of our stakeholders. Today's students live in a digital age, a global world and a new economy. These students will live and work during the morphing of boundaries, institutions, knowledge and businesses. The tools of their professions have yet to be invented. The jobs they will hold are yet to be created. Their workspace will, no doubt, be grounded in cyberspace. How will we prepare them for the challenges of exponential change? Frankly, unless each teacher "steps up," we won't prepare them. "Stepping up" means recognizing that the pendulum of traditional education cannot swing forever. The friction of change is rapidly grinding the worn, traditional gears to a halt. Perhaps it is as it should be. With the pendulum stilled, educators can cease marking time--cease a back and forth movement--CEASE marching in place within the confines of a monolithic system. Instead, educators can do what they yearn to do. They can step over the barriers of traditional schooling and step into the 21st century learning trajectory. They'll meet their students there -- on an upward and onward path that challenges all learners to master the skills and abilities needed to glide into their future.