In education we continue to approach the same problems with the same sorts of solutions, despite the fact that they’re not working. Instead, we need a fundamental shift in how we educate our children. Our public school system was designed to meet the needs of a long-ago era—the Industrial Age. Old ways are not working because now, we are in the Information Age.
We need to change from teacher-centered education to something more learner-centered. In the Industrial Age paradigm, a teacher is a judge and a rules-enforcer. In the Information Age, they should be guides and learning coaches who help students overcome obstacles.
A lot of my day as a homeschooling parent is observing – jumping in at the right time and then stepping back. It’s a difficult job because often I feel like I should be doing something more than just sort of standing there.
So I was really happy to find that education professor Charles Reigeluth tackles this topic in his new book Reinventing Schools. He puts forth a new paradigm for education where teachers take on a new set of traits, not seen in our schools today:
• Mentor … the same 20 to 30 students for several years, addressing all aspects of student development. Students and teachers would develop the deeper relationships that foster real caring on both sides. Mentors would help students prepare a personal learning plan for each project period, six to 12 weeks, including helping each student and his parents choose appropriate instructional goals, subject to standards set by the community, state and nation. Mentors would also help identify and support the best means for each student to achieve those goals.
• Designer … of student work options, mostly projects or tasks, to engage students in the learning process. Open educational resources developed by teachers throughout the country and available to all educators for free via the Internet can alleviate much of the burden of the designer role.
• Facilitator … of the learning process, which entails monitoring student progress, enhancing student motivation and coaching student performance.
• Learner … the teacher is always learning with the students, about students, from and for the students. The teacher does not have all the answers, but the teacher helps students find answers. And the teacher is always learning more about how best to meet students’ needs. The new paradigm provides sufficient support for teacher learning.
• Owner and manager … of the school. Like lawyers and accountants in a small firm, teachers would be partners who own their public school and make decisions about its operations, including budgeting and staffing. This model is already a success at the Minnesota New Country School and other EdVisions schools. This role elevates teachers to that of true professionals, rather than workers controlled by an all-powerful bureaucracy.
Reigeluth calls these new educators guides, to better reflect their new roles.
The new roles serve students in the age in which we live. But the new roles are a stretch for teachers given the student teacher ratio of 30:1. So the good news here is that these new roles are perfect for parents.
Parents often feel like the Information Age makes things more and more compacted and out of reach of the non-expert teacher. But it turns out that the deeper we plunge into the Age of Information, the less dependent we are on trained teachers to educate children. We have passed the point of turning back: spoon-feeding kids knowledge isn’t enough anymore.