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Five ways to change a school into a collaborative learning community

March 28, 2009

1. Ensure assessment is used for learning

Students need feedback on their development so they can get better at things. With concrete practical advice from their teachers, peers and parents students will improve and enjoy doing so. Develop an assessment policy that ensures that the formative nature of any assessment task is the focus and you will create a culture of cooperation and learning in your classrooms. For too long, teachers, parents and students have been focused on performance and results rather than learning and this has created all sorts of problems. 

2. Embrace and do not be afraid of collaborative uses of technology

The world-wide-web was always intended to be place to not just put and display things but also a place to share and most importantly to learn. We of course need to use this advisedly; to supplement not replace the real-time social interaction that happens in our real classrooms but we would be cheating our students if we did not embrace the what is happening with web 2.0 technology and the opportunities it affords. We need to guide them on their paths through the web, to help them make good decisions and be responsible and respectful contributors to the communities they enter. I work in an international school just outside Tokyo and many of my middle school students commute through the busiest rail network in the world. We trust them to do that, so it is appropriate we also trust them to negotiate the virtual world.

3. You do need to reinvent the wheel, sort offalkirk-wheel1

Too often in education we try to import ideas wholesale without thinking about their appropriateness for the situation we are putting them into. Schools need teams of people to work together to solve problems. These teams should not be scared of debate,  and some healthy dysfunction and disagreement – successful teaching strategies are hard-earnt and vigorously defended. However, what the groups decide and propose should be a key part of the decision making process of the school. School and curriculum leaders should guide these groups but should not dominate them.

4. Parents need to be part of the change process

If we do not invite parents into our change processes then we should not be surprised if they are less willing to accept our ideas. Too often we engage with parents after a change has been made. One of the major challenges to this is that as our students get older and more independent, regular contact between parents and teachers decreases. This works in terms of the students becoming increasingly self-reliant but it also leads to less dialogue between parents and teachers about pedagogy. I used to think that the reason that early years education was able to lead the way in educational change was because parents are more willing to go with new ideas when it is relatively low stakes for their children. While this remains a factor I do not think we can underestimate the importance of the greater level of dialogue that happens between teachers and parents in early years education and we need to try to find ways in our busy lives to continue this dialogue further up the school. If we do not engage parents in meaningful dialogue about the need for our schools and education practices to evolve then we risk those ideas being misunderstood and misinterpreted. The time and context is right for these conversations; economic turbulence, environmental catastrophe and a new age in information technology.

5. Education is complicated so can we stop pretending otherwise

We need to stop the reduction of education down to weary clichés and grade point averages. Becoming skilled in the multitude of areas we want our students to engage is not helped by oversimplification and outdated notions of competence. We do not need to refer to research data from study after study to know that the simple regurgitation of facts does not an education make, but if we really examine schools for students past the age of 10 across the world how much of what is happening is more than this? How many school systems are really emphasizing more than a set of results on a diet of exams that do not look too different from the ones we sat ourselves. Our societies are constantly faced with complex problems and challenges so why would our school systems not reflect this?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sean permalink
    June 11, 2009 11:06 pm

    This is weird – it’s more or less the programme for our Curriculum for Excellence ISIS day on June 15th!!!!! Maybe I should fix you up on vid conference as one of our workshops!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Love to all

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