A team of local educators just returned from the International Society for Technology in Education 2018 conference. The ISTE mission is to inspire educators worldwide to use technology to innovate teaching and learning, accelerate good practice and solve problems in education by providing community, knowledge and the ISTE standards, a framework for rethinking education and empowering learners. The conference inspires teachers and leaders to take the leap from “sit and get” learning to learning that is active and empowered my student questions. Further, the conference inspires leaders to act boldly, through vision, to ignite new opportunities for students and teachers alike. The inspiration from an ISTE conference doesn’t fade quickly; in some cases educators leave the four day event with their worlds completely rocked. Rocked by questioning their practice and reconsidering the “why” of our “how” in teaching and learning.
Locally our school system was able to send nearly fifty educators and leaders to attend this rockstar educational event. The ISTE conference was a great opportunity that represented a commitment by our schools to think about and do “school” differently.
It was step one for what is (hopefully) a new direction for our schools.
Our schools are beautiful, well kept, and effective by state standards. But as a parent and educational advocate I’m not convinced that what I see today is all that different (sans technology and flexible learning environments) than what I would have seen ten years ago. We are still in a mindset of counting, justifying, standardizing, and assessing discrete knowing (if you disagree educate me, please!).
When I talk with friends, family, and clients I am adamant that the thing I want for our kids and their peers is to walk away from their preK-12 educational experience with one thing: their curiosity in tact.
I don’t know that math or reading scores will make a difference in 10 years. I don’t know that memorizing states, counting to 100 the fastest, or passing spelling tests will help any child achieve what I want for them. But after seeing local educators engaged and inspired by the opportunity to teach and learn differently at the 2018 ISTE conference, I am hopeful that our kids won’t have to endure such practice much longer.
I did not see educators sitting and listening. I saw sparks flying when educators talked to peers from other states, heard collective voices questioning practice, and the energy of ideas being shared that have potential to push our local school system completely out of their comfort zone.
What I saw was a small army of local educators that were inspired to champion curiosity for every child in our community. They didn’t just have a new “why” but (due to the hands on nature of the ISTE conference) they also walked a way with at least some semblance of “how.”
A few things we know about curiosity:
- Curious students not only ask questions, but also actively seek out the answers.
- Curiosity is just as important as intelligence in determining how well students do in school.
- Curiosity prepares the brain for learning.
- Curiosity is linked to happiness, creativity, satisfying intimate relationships, increased personal growth after traumatic experiences, and increased meaning in life.
- Curiosity is a core determinant of academic achievement, rivaling the prediction power of IQ.
- Curious students are goal-oriented and display a greater attention span.
- Students who are curios, outperform their peers on a wide range of educational outcomes, including math and reading, SAT scores, and college attainment.
But for these curious effects to be seen, our schools and educational systems at a local level can not create learning environments or systems that inadvertently deplete or distinguish the curiosity of its students. We are past the day when high test scores in reading and math in Kindergarten will guarantee early college credit and automatic acceptance to Ivy League schools (hell, we probably were never really in that day if we look at the data). But are we yet to the day when schools can fully attend to development of curiosity? Or are we stuck?
Maybe what we need is a little bit of rebellion, even a little respectful insubordination.
Actions not meant to derail efforts to have awesome schools, but efforts that ignite curiosity that will engage and inspire our students. I’m not a dissatisfied consumer of public education, it’s just that I see what our schools have become focused on and I know with certainty that it will do little to help our kids in their post high school path to success. So maybe a little rebellion would be good for our system? Maybe we need to toss some good what ifs out into our community and support these educators who just returned from ISTE inspired and ready.
What would happen if a teacher (told to use a specific reading strategy and report back to their team to compare results) was empowered to say, “how will that reading strategy or effort on my part as a teacher use student questions and empower curiosity?”
What would happen if our leaders (before mandating a specific curriculum) asked for every individual on the curriculum selection and adoption committee to answer the question, “how will this material give us flexibility in our “how” and what will it give to our teachers, students, and families that they don’t already have?”
What would happen if every parent asked their children at dinner, “what did you create today?” Or what if student conferences showed parents and families what students were investigating? Further what if those conferences focused on how students were meeting standards based on doing work that is individually meaningful? What if the primary focus of report cards was competency rather than scaled performance? What if those report cards told us something about our child in the social-emotional context?
What would happen if our district leaders got every teacher in a room and facilitated a conversation around what school should be for every student? What if every teacher heard their own voice in their district vision?
What if every person in our school district had the same North Star? Where they knew where the system as a community of learning was headed, understood why, and had the capacity to make their own “how.”
What if everyone, regardless of position approached their role in our schools from a point of curiosity?
After the ISTE conference our community has roughly fifty minds that are noodling on how school can be different, and maybe even better. These minds have the capacity to champion curiosity for our kids. They have the capacity to network with new found peers from outside of their own system. These minds have an opportunity.
The question is not if they will use what they learned, but if they will be empowered and encouraged to do so.
To make this happen (and not just piss away the fifty grand it probably cost to get those minds to the ISTE conference) we need to take a moment to do one thing: create a space for innovation to be strategically led, supported, encouraged, and shared.
What if we have that space, that person, that team ready before August?
What if we just said “let’s do it” so we can get unstuck?
What if we decided that our primary purpose was not to educate our students under the guides of “do no harm” but rather “cause more curious?”
We need to think about curiosity for the good of our children, our communities, or schools, and even our democracy. We need solid solutions to move forward away from school of yesteryear, and towards the school that will truly prepare our students for tomorrow. When we see teachers, principals, district leaders, and school board members can we ask tough questions about how our schools are being champions for children’s curiosity? More importantly, will we?