Sunday, August 23, 2009

FLNW - thinking about change

Peter Grimmett, one of my top 10 most memorable professors, said to a group of graduate students in 1996:
YOU can make a difference, just maybe not in your life time.
The course was Developing Educational Programs and Practices for Diverse Educational Settings and we were talking about educational reform. After spending some time sharing stories about our own experiences in school, we were feeling that change was quite urgent. I remember scanning my grade 1 report card and watching the looks of horror when everyone saw the talks too much comment made by my teacher. They were also amused that the need for improvement was consistently checked for most of the school year. Unfortunately, I finally did "improve" by the 4th quarter. The report card didn't seem quite as alarming as I went on to share stories about Anthony, the unhappy, large, black boy who only occasionally showed up for school, getting hit over the head with a yard stick for not answering the teacher's question about what he ate for breakfast. I had my wrists tapped with that same yardstick for not singing the national anthem. I didn't know the words to the U.S. national anthem. My family moved to Kentucky from Quebec. Why would I know the national anthem?

Peter Grimmitt's statement was both motivating and depressing. My first questions for this group of mostly practicing teachers were about the opportunities for educators to talk about their experiences, their curriculum, their questions and dilemmas. It seemed that most "professional development" days were filled with workshops and other events that could be described as “contrived collegiality” (Hargreaves, 1994). Creating more opportunities for educators to connect online was an obvious solution. I can trace my interest in online communities to those conversations facilitated by Peter. As a final project for the course I developed an action research proposal called Supporting Communities of Teachers: Networked Technology as a Catalyst for Change. It was a start!

I thought about Peter's statement a lot during the past week as I travelled with a group of people on the Future of Learning in a Networked World pacific northwest tour. You see, these people don't seem very interested in waiting for somebody else's lifetime. The conversations were occasionally about current educational dilemmas, but more often we were leaping ahead, imagining a very different world -- earning a PhD without an institutional affiliation, doing away with copyright altogether, a day when schools no longer exist. It's useful and refreshing to think about extremes and design new possibilities without grinding through the issues we have with the current system.

I imagine the FLNW group -- Nancy White, Leigh Blackall, Derek Chirnside, Sunshine Connelly, and Michael Coghlan -- will get a chuckle out of this grade 1 report card. Sylvia talks too much?? Mostly on this trip I did some good listening, and the experience left me with a lot to think about. I'm now wondering how to engage others in these conversations about the future of education. We need more events like University of Manitoba's Future of Education online conference, but involve more practicing educators from a variety of disciplines. We need more opportunities for educators to find out for themselves that there are better ways.


  1. Your report card cracked me up. If only your teacher could have seen your amazing listening last week. Now I look forward to learning more about what you heard. I have some very conflicting thoughts about the "throw out the old and bring in completely new" and a more iterative building upon assets. In other words, I worry about throwing the baby out with the bath water, but at the same time feel frustrated that incremental change is insufficient.

    At one point we talked about the Northwest Native philosophy of thinking not just of today, but in terms of seven generations. How much of that perspective should we keep in mind?

    Like I said, I'm conflicted!

  2. Is nice to read you Sylvia, you kept so quiet on the trip, I sometimes worried paranoid thoughts that you thought it all hog wash. Pity you couldn't be at the farm.. in the last half an hour we had a rather energetic conversation - Nancy playing devil's advocate to discover that the "no more school" idea did have slow change thinking in it. I see by your comment here Nancy that you might not have picked that up for keeps?

    Basically, the baby is already out of the bath water and in need of relocating. We need to locate that baby before we can be sure of throwing the water, and so should begin 10 years of solid research into where learning REALLY happens, followed by a generation of support for gradually upscaling support for what we find.

    My bets are on school being left behind in a dark age called industrial modernism. I hope then that a new system/idea/concept of education will emerge to take its place.

  3. Am now reading the Hargreaves text. Thanks

  4. @Nancy and @Leigh, I just noticed that I didn't acknowledge your comments! I know I did in my mind but obviously neglected to write anything out and click a button. Gosh, Aug 24, that was a whole flu season ago!

    "10 years of solid research" -- I like that.

    And I think we need to be sensitive about the language and tone we use when talking about change, or presenting our arguments for change to others. I think I mentioned that at the Open Ed conference I felt quite unsettled. It felt very much us and them. What I heard in some of the presentations and conversations: "They are idiots because they don't do things my way".

  5. How is it that simply anybody can write a website and acquire as widespread as this? Its not like you've said something incredibly spectacular?more like you've painted a reasonably picture over a difficulty that you simply recognize nothing concerning I don’t want to sound mean, here but do you really suppose that you can escape with adding some pretty pictures and not really say anything?