Education and Learning in 2021 – Time to refocus or time for radical change?

Tune in to any recent (over the past year) blog posts, keynotes or books from education thought leaders (see the end of this post for several that I follow and enjoy) and the same question is being asked – how do we leverage what the pandemic has shown us about learning and education systems to better deliver learning experiences? What do we keep from distance learning? What truths have been revealed and how do we act upon them?

The fact is, we have known about the structural problems with most education systems for quite some time. Huge inequity in access to education for all calls for massive change! Lawmakers have attempted to deal with inequity on a surface level but practices such as averaging grades, teacher-centered pedagogical approaches, a focus on culturally biased testing, increasingly irrelevant curricular foci, etc. have all exacerbated inequity.

I am blessed to be connected with and surrounded by educators who are committed to change for the better that addresses learning for and towards our future, incorporating student voice and choice and addressing equity issues. As much as I, personally, would love to see a radical shift the least we can do is refocus and put pressure on the points of resistance that keep most systems doing the same things year after year. So how and where should we apply pressure on these points of resistance?

  1. We need to identify the resistance points;
  2. we need to tailor the pressure to fit each point of resistance;
  3. we need to celebrate and showcase the examples of new approaches that support deeper and more meaningful learning to highlight what success in education and learning looks like for the 21st century and beyond.

Points of Resistance:

  • An exam / test-centred learning focus driven by an increasingly selective university admissions process;
  • A common mindset amongst parents and many educators that the system they experienced works just fine – “nothing’s broken so why try to fix it”? (please feel free to make this a discussion and add in the blog comments below any other perceived points of resistance to real, meaningful, education reform)
  • Institutional inertia
  • Fear of the unknown – or, yet to be known fully

These are all related, of course, but the best ways to put pressure on these resistance points varies. For example, addressing institutional inertia often requires top leadership to make some personnel changes and for school boards to actively approach a future-ready plan with a crystal clear vision that goes beyond acknowledging a need for change but actively pursues comprehensively planning for that change. All points of resistance can be partially dealt with by celebrating and showcasing examples of new approaches that support deeper and more meaningful learning and that highlight what success in education and learning looks like for the 21st century and beyond. That is key to the mindset shift but mindset alone needs to go hand in hand with action plans that make connections between higher education and secondary education. Please share your thoughts on this – the more brains that tackle these issues the better we can be and see the change we need.

UNESCO’s competences framework, and other initiatives, attempt to break curriculum conservatism to bring about more dynamic approaches. The focus is on the skills, knowledge and attitudes that are needed for global citizenry in a complex world.

Hughes, Conrad, and Professor Abdeljalil Akkari. “Education Needs a Refocus so That All Learners Reach Their Full Potential.” The Conversation, 25 May 2021, theconversation.com/education-needs-a-refocus-so-that-all-learners-reach-their-full-potential-154649.

There is no doubt that the past year, getting through a pandemic, has made even more clear that: Relationships matter most (start with the heart); one-size-fits-all teaching and learning experiences create greater gaps; technology gives us incredible potential to personalize learning and increase engagement and that tests and content do not matter near as much as they are measured!

SOME FAVORITE EDUCATION THOUGHT LEADERS – who are yours? (ALL of these great educators overlap in supporting meaningful, connected, future-ready education design and learning experiences)

  • George Couros – leadership, innovation and Universal Design for Learning Principles – practical and immediate application and implementation strategies
  • Homa Tavangar – leadership, innovation, global citizenship, DEI, BQI
  • Will Richardson – leadership, technology in education, meaningful and substantive education reform, BQI
  • Katie Novak – Universal Design for Learning principles and practical application of
  • Bill Ferriter – PLCs, student voice in feedback and assessment, practical implementation strategies for meaningful learning
  • Yong Zhao – impact of technology and globalization on education
  • John Hattie – education research / education performance indicators, “Visible Learning
  • Jay McTighe – UbD founder and developer of backward planning, leadership, standards-based education reforms
  • Michael Fullan – leadership, whole system change, pedagogies for deep learning
  • Douglas Reeves – leadership, school change, accountability, teacher improvement
  • Douglas Fisher – leadership, RTI, cultures of achievement, SEL impact
  • Jennifer Gonzalez – research based instruction, student-teacher connectedness
  • Catlin Tucker – blended learning guru

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