Last week, I had the privilege to present at the #140edu conference in New York City on a panel with Mary Beth Hertz, @mbteach, and Mike Ritzius, @mritzius, on “A New Species of Educator.” (Thanks to Jeff Pulver, @jeffpulver) for organizing these wonderful times of learning and sharing!) We were talking about what makes connected educators different and whether or not we are so different that we are in fact a new species. One aspect of the shift in connected educators that I spoke about was the fact that they accepted that there were no longer clear goal posts that marked graduation and an end of the learning process. The achievement of a new degree or certificate simply marks movement on the journey, rather than any final accomplishment.
When most of us decided to become teachers, it was after completing 12-16 or more years in a system that they had come to understand. We had started in elementary and proceeded through college, learning the rules and effectively playing the game of school. When we graduated, we headed back into what we thought was that same system, one of encouraging and supporting the learning of the next generation. Many times, as was the case with me, it was even in the same building from which I had graduated.
The system was one based on a model from the 19th and 20th centuries that created a standardized work force to run the factories of the country. Literate and capable workers to keep an effective economy running! From the McGuffey Readers to No Child Left Behind, the goal has been clear with identifiable benchmarks through which each child needed pass in order to successfully graduate. When it came time for graduation, from high school and even more so from college, the assumption was that the major skills of life had been acquired, and each young adult was ready for Life. The system was based on a world where the attributes of being a knowledgeable person were identifiable and quantifiable.
Then the 21st century hit! The speed of change and innovation shattered the goal posts that had marked the end of the time of learning for everyone. Educators can no longer assume that their degrees, for which they worked so hard, are all that is necessary, because they no longer are. The clear, established system no longer exists. While there are aspects of the system that are still critical for students to learn: reading and writing, math and research, there are many, many more that were not being taught when most teachers got their training.
So the first goal posts that have to move are the teachers’. We need to look up and see that what is before us is a limitless horizon for our own learning. We have to put ourselves on a learning journey that happens every day. It doesn’t need to take hours of each day, but it must happen with a regularity that supports ongoing growth in our practice.
The most important aspect of growing our practice in this ever-changing world is to become part of Connected Educator world. There are lots of ways to do that, but it is only through building that network of other committed educators that teachers can dive into the quickly moving stream that is the world of education today. By learning and growing with other educators, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. You don’t have to read all the articles and attend all of the conferences. You just have to share and talk with your partners on the journey.
Then we have to teach our students that learning will not end with graduation, that it truly is about lifelong growth. We need to be modeling how we are tackling new challenges and asking new questions, so that they will see that that is the norm. They need to watch the adults around them develop and change, moving beyond what we first thought and becoming better at what we do. And, most importantly, we need to include them in the journey, walking with us into the future, sharing their strengths and enhancing all that we do together. We need to all get off of the sidelines and move forward!