Education Today: Tinkerers Needed
I spent an inspiring three days at the National Association of Independent School's annual conference a few months ago and returned home filled with admiration for my teaching colleagues across the country and with a head full of new ideas to try. I have been a tinkerer my whole life, one of those people who loves to take things apart to learn how they work - and who sometimes has a few spare parts when things are reassembled. My parents described me as a menace - particularly when I disassembled their cuckoo clock the day after they received it and when my efforts to create gunpowder (at the age of 10) went awry. My students have been much more generous - but I learned a bit of self-restraint as I matured.
The theme of the NAIS conference was Design the Revolution, a call to independent school educators - and all educators - to rethink, redesign, and re-engineer our classrooms to ensure that students graduate equipped with the skills and knowledge they will need to thrive in this new century. As most of us know, the world around us is different from the world in which we spent our childhoods. It is changing rapidly as technology evolves; everything from popular culture to public health to economics is more connected to and more dependent upon events that happen around the world; our world is more uncertain, more fragile almost, as we experience more extreme weather patterns, the violent, inhumane behavior of extremist groups, and the vast disparity in resources between the haves and the have nots. Viewed altogether, the need for people who are smart and creative, who can research and analyze, who can work successfully with others regardless of differences, who care enough to work hard on behalf of others, and who can design and redesign until they build something that works is all too obvious. As teachers, it falls to us to develop these people. The question of how is not clear yet, but our ability to tinker and our willingness to experiment, fail, evaluate and redesign is what will help us to achieve our goals and what will help our students to find success in their lives.
When I left NAIS, I felt called to re-evaluate and recreate the experience of my own classroom - to ensure that my students spent much time doing and less time absorbing, that my assessments were meaningful and measured important skills, that my students were inspired to produce excellent work because it mattered, and that they viewed their classmates as resources from whom they could learn much. I have always been a teacher who tinkered - some habits are hard to change - but perhaps it is time to return to my childhood ways, to tinker boldly and without fear and to encourage those same habits in my students. Some efforts will no doubt fail, but I have failed before and survived, and my willingness to try and to sometimes fail makes it safer for my students to do the same thing.