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From good to great: What does it take?

We live in transformational times. There is no doubt about that. The way we relate, we work, we communicate, we drive, even the way we do chores or shop is constantly changing. Information grows so fast, that it is hard to keep updated with the latest trends in education and all the new research and publications. When you finally get one of your bucket list books and you look at the printing date, 2015 seems so far away; old and outdated!! The way we live has, and continues to change so drastically, and with it our perceptions and needs. Has the way we learn changed that much? Well, I do not think so. Although the impact technology has had on the access to information and how the young brains are developing is undeniable, the way we learn per se has not changed that much, what truly changed is what we know about learning. Decades of research have unveiled so much about brain science and learning, exploring stories of failure and success, survival stories despite school, creating theories like Dweck’s Growth Mindset, or inquiry-based learning. But, wait a minute! Didn’t the cavemen and women learn by inquiry and exploration? Didn’t many innovators that changed the course of history just leave school and think outside the box? So, we all keep getting together in conferences discussing theories of learning (which I think is phenomenal information) but we are missing the point; it’s not so much what we know about learning but what we do with that knowledge. Many of us were “educated” or have inherited a different educational paradigm. We have been immersed in a system that, under the false pretense of social justice, streamlined our thinking and beliefs and in which success was reserved for a few. Where the teacher, the only source of wisdom, dictated not only what you would learn, but how and in how much time. Where every child was given the opportunity to learn…the SAME and to think inside the SAME box! What type of social justice is that? When education actually limits the scope of learning, it becomes a very dangerous thing, which lends itself to be used, as it has been in many places in Latin America, as a weapon of ideological dominance, which is as much about what is taught than what it is not taught. Does it sound familiar? Unfortunately, we still see this factory model in many schools around the world, the model used in 1900 in the 21st Century!! Well, but we make sure that we display our knowledge through a projector, type in computers and give feedback online. Again, only those who dare to survive, succeed. This calls for a desperate urge to change our systems, which are not working. It did not work then, what makes us think it will work now or in the unknown future? We need to create great systems where success is the norm, not the exception, where success is so broad and redefined that every student has a chance to achieve it, whatever their interests, abilities, ideas, strengths or needs.

Many educators hide behind the curtain of fear. Change is so unpredictable! But actually, it’s not. Change is so predictable that everybody by now should know that there is 100% possibilities that it will happen. Change is the only constant in life, what we cannot foresee is what it will look like, but it will definitely happen. There is a popular maxim going around in the world of education, “we are preparing students for jobs that do not exist yet and for problems we can’t even imagine”. But guess what? Ten years ago there were no AI engineers, app developers, drone experts, data analysts, social media managers or even Uber drivers!! 20 years ago there were no web analysts or content moderator, 50 years ago there were no nutritionists! Oh, and so many “modern” jobs have disappeared, such as switchboard operators, human computers (yes! it was a title for a human being doing the computations), airplane listeners, among many others. Whenever you stand in time, the jobs, problems and needs ahead were unknown, and as a rule, they changed. Change is as old and constant as time. What is taking schools so long to embrace change? Is it the generation gap? We can’t deny that there is definitely a gap between educators and learners. What we experienced and even what we learned in college may not be applicable anymore to nowadays setting. That’s terrifying, it demands a lot from us. But to move from good to great we first need to understand how crucial and sensitive our jobs are: we are shaping the leaders of the future! Secondly, it takes a whole lot of work and constant learning. Professional development, AKA lifelong learning, in order to adapt to the needs of our students is not an option anymore, it is the ethical way to conduct ourselves as educators. And everything starts with the will to try something new. We cannot dwell in the past anymore, we have been doing it for too long already and it hasn’t worked. It’s daunting, for sure. But when we say, for example, “no cellphones during class”, we are shutting our classroom doors not only to the future, but to the present. We need to ask ourselves what WE are doing wrong, it’s not the times we live in, it’s how we adapt to them. We are failing to design engaging and empowering learning experiences which will be more tempting for our students than to chat with friends or take silly videos. Most student use cell phone inappropriately when they are bored! Educators need to develop their empathy, be visionaries and cultivate their mindset. Embrace the change and become entrepreneurs, early adopters, risk-takers. At this point you might be thinking “well, everything sounds very idyllic, but I do not have the resources to move from good to great.” What resource do you need? PD? There are tons of free reads, webinar and MOOCs available online. There are thousands of connected educators in social networks like Twitter or even Facebook that are just one-click away and super excited about sharing. There are free trainings and certifications online, such as the Google Educator Certificate or Common Sense Education. There are your own colleagues, at your own school, which together conform an insatiable source of knowledge and inspiration. Do you need tech? Because many schools are designing now their STEAM classrooms, or Classrooms of the future or 21st century classrooms (whatever the fancy name they can come up with), but I have seen million-dollar schools doing less than good and educators with only one old cell phone and slow internet doing more than great. In the end, going from good to great is not about politics, or funding, or cutting-edge hardware, or latest released prescriptive programs or even the insane speed of change (although all of them help). What it takes a school from good to great is the desire to be and go for it. The biggest barrier and all that it takes is simple: the Good-to-Great Mindset.

Laila Segurado, M.Ed Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator, challenge embracer, change advocate and lifelong learner. Magen David Academy, Panama. @LailaSegurado lsegurado@magendavidacademy.org

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