As we move into the next year, I'm always compelled to think about what has gone before. I've spent an extremely busy year traveling back and forth from Australia to the USA and it's been an interesting personal experience comparing and sharing cultures. I apologise for the lack of 'blogs' on this forum, but traveling doesn't always lend itself to sitting at the computer for long lengths of time.
I've met teachers from all over the United States (as well as in Australia of course) and the one thing that I know with certainty is that teachers everywhere are working tirelessly to do their best for their students. Sure, like any profession there might be a few 'bad eggs'...but essentially the profession is full of passionate, dedicated people who start off teaching with a desire to make a difference. Let's face it, they are NOT doing it for the money....a teacher's salary is pitiful compared to most 'professional' salaries, yet I would defy anyone to argue that they have one of the most influential jobs in the world. Why then, are teachers struggling against lack of resources and funding? Why is bureaucracy more important than education? I feel so desperate for teachers when I speak to them at conferences and training when they say "we want to do what you are suggesting, but we can't because we don't have the resources". Why would any administration think it is ok to put 15 special needs children in one classroom with one teacher and minimal aide support? Yet I hear these stories every day.
However, despite the woes and cries of lack of support and lack of funding, we still must move forward into what I call the new educational paradigm. We can't stay in an antiquated system because it is easier, or expected. It's no longer feasible to be able to teach our students all that there is to learn because the world seems so much bigger now with the overflow of technological advancement, the internet age, and the influx of media. When I went to school, the curriculum was english, math, science, history, geography, art, health and a splash of physical education and we were limited to what was held in the Encyclopedia Britannica (or something similar).
Now, I believe it is impossible to stick to the above as curriculum. First, there is just too much information to impart to students in even one of those curriculum areas and second not everyone is meant to be 'well rounded' educationally any more (even if they could be). It makes so much more sense to me to work out what our student's specialties are; what they are good at and what they love to do and then build curriculum around their interests. You can still integrate all of the curriculum areas above, but you're doing it in a much more confined arena.
The other benefit is that students can basically be the designers and drivers of their own curriculum. It's kinda like a 'Pandora's' (www.pandora.com) approach to education in that students can select their areas of expertise.
I've talked about this before and I know there are many of you as educators jumping up and down saying "but how am I meant to manage all of that?" I believe passionately that when children are learning what they love to learn then behaviour issues diminish; attendance increases; and interest and engagement grows giving the teacher more time to manage the classroom and curriculum.
This is not some Utopian idea I have, because I tried this when I introduced technology into my classroom of 10 students with autism. They were all on differing levels of the spectrum both from an autism and learning viewpoint. I had to differentiate the curriculum anyway, so I focused on interests and technology and the success was phenomenal.
What I noticed was that my students gained confidence as they achieved success. As they gained confidence, they were willing to accept greater challenges educationally, and the whole thing became a cyclical process. The more confidence a student feels, they more success they will have. Why? Because they are learning in an area that they enjoy and this makes them WANT to learn! To me it just makes common sense.
I could spend a month of Sundays discussing this as an issue, but the point I really want to make is that the year of 2014 for me will be one where I am an ambassador for what I believe is true 21st Century Learning. This approach is about differentiated, creative, out of the box education and one that is very much student driven with the teacher as mentor. The paradigm shift is well overdue and we can longer deny the urgency for it's implementation.