Wondering what’s next

March 8th, 2010

Ally and I have finished up our current round of data collection on the Teachers’ Work project, and are just trying to decide what might be next for us. We thought maybe we’d bring some of our questions and our thinking to this group to see if anyone else wanted to think alongside us.

When this project began, we were interested in how teachers made sense of their work, especially how teachers who were interested in 21C ideas made sense of it. We wanted to know how real teachers were thinking about what 21C education might be, how they were teaching in their schools, how they made sense of having ideas in the first place. We’ve done some of that, decided other bits were too big, and been confused and enlightened along the way. Now we’re trying to figure out what might be next for us.

We’re interested in the way that individual teachers make sense of their context and their aspirations for the future, and we’re interested in how that sensemaking actually shapes the context and what is possible for the future. We’re interested in how leaders shape their school contexts—and are shaped by them. We’re interested in where the power lies in the system—where the shifting thinking could be most useful, most likely to make a big change in the way kids experience teaching and learning.

The question for us now is: what’s the question for us now? We know that we have not found answers to this big question about leverage points, and we know that very many other things are already known about teachers and how they think and work and schools and why they are so hard to change. But given all that we know, what would be useful for us to explore together? What’s the key missing question?

Now, Ally and I enjoy theory enormously. But this is a practical undertaking we’re discussing here. We want a practical way to understand how schools can change, not a theoretical model of how change might possibly happen. Usually if you’re a researcher and you want to understand something practical, you need to go out and look at something. We’re not aware of schools that have really made it in this regard, schools that everyone knows have transformed teaching and learning so that younger people and older people (inside and outside the local school) experience a different kind of education. You readers might know about those schools, and might be able to say, School X has totally transformed. We’d like to hear from you about School X.

What we’re more familiar with, and we’re guessing you’re more familiar with, are schools that are trying to change. We could name dozens of schools with fantastic older and young people, who are trying to reshape the way teaching and learning and schooling happens. We know of communities where this is contentious, communities where this is invisible, communities where this is deeply supported. But all the ones we know would say that they’re on a journey, that 10% or 40% or 60% of the students/teachers/community members are on board. But we don’t know anyone who has arrived, and we don’t know anyone who isn’t fighting madly along the way.

So, if there are no models to say “this is where we’re going,” we can’t research those.  Indeed, what Ally and I think might be true is that we’re on a journey for which there is no “arrival,” no 100% on board.  We’re moving into an unknown future, trying to take a whole bunch of people who care a lot about schools along with us, and we don’t really know where we’re going. This makes for a tricky research question.

We wonder if you might help. We have an unresearchable question like: “How do you support yourself and others to move into an unknown future?” Now we wonder what questions you have about this whole topic that we might be able to engage with in order to figure out how we’re thinking about things and what we might do next. This is a question that needs a lot of heads thinking together for us to ask just the right question. Will you lend us your head, your questions?

Future focussed issues, Shifting research, Shifting schooling, Teachers' work , , , , , , , , ,

  1. | #1

    @Ally

    Not sure, but according to Bill Gates, universities could be made obsolete by the Internet. Does the world’s richest man have a point?

    “Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world,” he said. “It will be better than any single university.”

    A good deal of knowledge could be gained from the Internet given that students are self-motivated learners. Gates offered an even broader opinion that students young and old should be credited for their gained knowledge no matter the source–whether it’s from the Internet or earned through an MIT degree–and a means to “highlight” those credits.

    More here:
    http://www.tomsguide.com/us/Bill-Gates-College-University-Lectures,news-7727.html

  2. Ally
    | #2

    That’s an interesting video. I wonder where and how they used it. @davidj

  3. | #3

    I saw this video linked from the Twitter feed on this site.

    This video was produced by the New Brunswick Department of Education to stimulate discussion among educators and other stakeholders in public education in the province of New Brunswick, Canada.

  4. Mary
    | #4

    There seems to me to be a fun damental problem with trying to deal with future issues in a “research”framework. By definition – research is the study of things that are past – what has happened – while future studies are about things that haven’t happened.

    In other words, research is not the appropriate toolset or paradigm or framework for these questions.

    Perhaps the main lesson for us out of this strand is that research isn’t the answer to every question. No one tool is enough to fix everything. I know this sounds very close to heresy in these days where “evidence-based practice” seems to be the automatic answer to every question get the tar and the feathers ready….

    Exactly how far “evidence based practice” does preclude any innovative behaviour might bea useful question to explore in its own right. It seems to be used in some circles as a reason why innovative solutions can’t be entertained (because they haven’t been proved)

    So perhaps the question that this thread needs to consider is – what skills, tools, approaches can we use to take us where research can’t go?

    How can we permit and encourage future focus and strategic decision-making while still retaining some common-sense about ensuring that we learn from our experience?

  5. Maurice
    | #5

    In her last paragraph Jennifer wrote: We have an unresearchable question like: “How do you support yourself and others to move into an unknown future?”

    Hasn’t the future always been unknown? Is it perhaps that you see the current educational future as being somewhat more so? How does this putative future become less researchable than any other research question that has been answered in the past?

    Now we wonder what questions you have about this whole topic that we might be able to engage with in order to figure out how we’re thinking about things and what we might do next. This is a question that needs a lot of heads thinking together for us to ask just the right question. Will you lend us your head, your questions? (Jennifer)

    this appears to me to be part of the problem: staying isolated in the prevailing discourses that separate researchers and teachers as distinct categories where teachers are practitioners of change, and researchers are the spokespeople – because ultimately research is designed to validate a direction for change or to uphold some status quo against pending change

    Phil Wood says he’s ”started to think about innovation as a process and how to capture it as a main focus to my research” and is “currently working with a mate at univ. to develop student led focus groups to get them to reflect on the learning spaces (both formal and informal) they inhabit”

    I like to agree with Phil in paying attention to the context, though I am more interested in the dialogue, the interactions of conversations. This blog, with its comments, is an example, albeit somewhat laboured, of how we construct meaning through our sharing of understandings. If we all passively read the postings without anyone responding we would remain in the sort of space that the emphasis on writing has developed. Fortunately, we can get past this, since as Maureen pointed out: “We need researchers and theorists and real teachers talking and trying possibilities” , and Jennifer thinks ”there’s some combination of all of us thinking together that is going to take us to the next place…” To me, this is the essence of it. But more than that. We probably could all learn from sharing narratives as explorations, not positioning ourselves as teachers, learners or researchers, but as all of these. Although I am employed as a teacher I am also a learner and it’s not even a relevant question for me to ask whether I spend more of my time learning or teaching. Likewise my role as a researcher. Do I learn better or differently by putting on a researcher hat? To what extent is collaborative practitioner reflection research?

    So to go back to the beginning: “How do you support yourself and others to move?”. I actually believe it is eminently researchable. Now let’s start discussing some workable methodologies …

  6. Mary
    | #6

    I really like some of the things I’m reading her, but let’s not limit ourselves to focusing on teachers’ role in the process. It’s not just teachers (maybe nnot even mostly teachers?) who have to change. How we define our questions limits how we can frame our answers.

    **How can we raise the game for the rest of our community / society in terms of how much they understand about what we want to do, what school can do, and what the optinmal conditions are?

    **How can we start to change the way government and other social agencies support and integrate the improvements and changes we are trying to bring about?

    **How can we give back some of the initiative and the power that resides in the system to they young people who ought to be at the centre of it – so that when there’s a successsful outcome it’s tehm that own it, not the adults around them?

    We’re quick enough to say that teachers can’t do it all themselves, but when it comes to talking about what needs doing, we often seem to forget that anyone else exists … h’mm …maybe that’s worth a thread of its own….

  7. | #7

    Wonderful blog, great article.

    I am not in education (although I am planning to head that way) so my opinion is fresh, inexperienced yet unbiased.

    I think that as Jennifer points out in the article, there is no one school or educational institution that made it 100% all the way past the critical shifting point (if this point can be known a priori).

    I believe that meaningful change cannot happen in isolation as in one individual or one institution since everything is interconnected and interdependent. Real change is emergent and spontaneous. It happens when the collaborative interactions of like minded individuals and groups of people converge and gravitate towards a tipping point.

    That is where the shift happens. However there is as yet not enough critical mass to pass that tipping point but only ‘ignition point’s (as Phil describes it) that you wonderful people are all striving towards.

  8. Ally
    | #8

    Interesting thoughts – thank you. I’m particularly interested in the idea of finding out more about innovation as a process. I’m interested in what contexts allow people to take risks, try out new ideas, to think differently about current practices. I want to know more about the characteristics of individual innovators but I also want (at least I think I do) to know more about how the interactions between people allow people to make meaning in new ways and to innovate. What can we achieve as a group that we couldn’t achieve on our own? Perhaps this is the same as your leadership question, Jennifer. It seems to me the job of a teacher is so huge it’s unrealistic to expect any individual to be all things to all people. I’m interested in how we can best use everyone’s individual strengths, so that collectively we can work in new and flexible ways.

  9. | #9

    @Jennifer

    Thanks for the comment. It sounds as if we’re certainly developing some common ideas. As a geographer, I guess I have a natural interest in space as a concept. As a result, I’m really interested in the role of learning spaces, their link to blending learning, and the potentinal for resultant rich environments for learning (see one of my blogs @ http://blendedspaces.blogspot.com). I’m currently working with a mate at univ. to develop student led focus groups to get them to reflect on the learning spaces (both formal and informal) they inhabit, and from this ask them to project forward to imagine what their most appropriate learning spaces in universities might look like in the future. We’re hoping to make this university wide next year as a major bit of research. While I remember, our wiki is can be found at http://futureed.pbworks.com, very early days at the moment!

  10. | #10

    Hello Maureen and Phil,
    I find your comments really exciting, both of you. Maureen, I agree that forums like this are helpful–we had a long talk last week about how we could step up the work of this website to the next level. And of course that’s limited by one major thing: we’re not sure what the next level is! The other odd paradox here is that it’s true that things are moving “too fast” as you say, and there are other ways that they’re not moving much at all. It’s hard to hold that paradox and to know what it means. The participation of folks like you two is a real help.

    Phil, it sounds like you’re on a similar path over in the UK. I like the idea of studying the process by which people take on these leadership roles (or engage in leadership practices). I like thinking about that slice of it. I hope you’d be willing to carry on thinking with us here (and seeing whether our theoretical content from the theory side of this website is useful to your wiki work). I’m also curious about the slice you take as a geographer that is different than the slice I take as a former English teacher and someone who now works with adult and leadership development as opposed to Ally or Rachel who have a rich science background. Like Maureen, I think there’s some combination of all of us thinking together that is going to take us to the next place…

  11. | #11

    Hi there,

    Just come across your ideas and wanted to offer some thoughts from a U.K. perspective. The problems of working with teachers to develop something different is equally difficult here – schools are hemmed in by government diktat leading to ‘sanctioned’ change but little else. I’ve started to think about innovation as a process and how to capture it as a main focus to my research. As a result, I’ve started to work with and develop a conversation with teachers in local schools and colleagues in my own HEI (Univ of Leicester). The intention is to begin to understand how and why individuals begin to take a lead in essentially hostile circumstances. Through this I am intending to develop small scale, local teacher action research networks together with interested mates in school to act as ‘grassroots’ innovation points. I’m already working with an inner city school geography department, producing a bespoke website to encourage independent learning – we are hoping that this will act as an ignition point for others. I’m also working on a wiki with a colleague to create a manifesto for 21st century learning in England, something we want to open up to others as we populate it further (early days)

  12. | #12

    I think one of the ways to support people to move into an unknown future is to keep producing discussion forums like this that end up linking to multiple others and empowering teachers across all age groups to share.

    Things are moving too fast now to rely on books or even journals alone.

    We need researchers and theorists and real teachers talking and trying possibilities. We also need to listen to alternative educators such as home schoolers

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