Industrial Age vs. Information Age, Part 2

From the time of the one room schoolhouse until the very recent past, walls have played a significant role in education buildings. Walls were built between classrooms with the intention of keeping everyone out. Other teachers were not invited into the classroom to assist or just to take a look. Doors were shut as a matter of course. Principals and superintendents knocked on the door to acknowledge their presence. Parents did not have an open invitation to visit neither the school nor the classroom. Although this has changed over the last few decades, it hasn’t really gone far enough. Parents are accepted as volunteers but very rarely as equals. Classrooms are co-taught but it is the rare that both teachers share the role of expert. Principals and superintendents visit more regularly but are still seen as observers not participants. The 21st Century superintendent will need to eliminate walls that constrict education. Not necessarily physical walls but virtual walls that keep the teachers and students in and the rest of the world out. As the world becomes more of a digitally connected society, superintendents will have to model and reinforce practices that create “thin walls” or “flatten” classrooms. This fundamentally open classroom should be a priority of superintendents who wish to address the challenges facing today’s students. Teachers need to begin to look for the experts in their surroundings and tap into their expertise. Administrators need to become a part of the educational experience so that students and teachers see them as contributors and not guests.

In all of this flattening and thinning, the Fantasyland superintendent should have several roles. He or she should be the leader through exemplification. As teachers and students begin to develop personal learning networks, superintendents should assist and support through their own personal learning networks. The days of not “friending” or “following” people who work with you or students are over. Superintendents need to model appropriate virtual behavior so that all of the stakeholders can see. As teachers begin to learn side by side with students, superintendents will need to be cheerleaders for their efforts. It won’t be easy for teachers to give up control of their classrooms so administrators will have to show their support for the challenges that they undertake. Superintendents will also have to serve as pitchmen for their schools. In the financial state that public education is currently experiencing and the negative connotations that sometimes go with our professions, superintendents will have to sing the praises of changes in the district while staying grounded in the data that supports technology efforts and keeping a close eye on the purse strings.

One concept that will most assuredly have to go in the 21st Century classroom is the idea of standardized testing to prove achievement centered around a finite set of standards in a limited array of subjects. Assessment, as we progress through this century, will have to change to encompass a new type of learning, a type of learning where calculators and computers as well as smartphones and tablets are part of the equation and the solution. Assessments will have to be able to gauge creativity and connectedness along with real world problem solving and leadership skills. As a superintendent in this generation of education, a priority will be placed on assuring that our teachers and our students are assessed on the skills that matter to this generation of employers and the next. The superintendent will have to be an advocate for assessments and standards that do not limit the education that our students receive or limit their post secondary opportunities. This means that a superintendent will have to be connected to the world as well as the classroom, an advocate for real reform in the global community and at home and a master diplomat when dealing with politicians and leaders of industry.

Industrial Age vs. Information Age

A shift in the world has obviously taken place over the last hundred years and it has accelerated into a boom in the last ten to fifteen years. As I am sure things changed slowly in the shift from educational ideals prior to the industrial revolution to industrial age norms, education establishments are slowly treading into the information age. The change has come so quickly that teachers with fifteen or more years of experience are more than slightly overwhelmed. Those that did not embrace technology at the offset are now struggling with simple tasks as we strive to take the next step. Administrations cannot continue to devote time for instructing staff on how to access email and use spreadsheets when the new expectation is to Skype and use backchannels.

In the Industrial Age there was a strong need for students to conform. When the bulk of the employment opportunities were for factory workers, schools needed to churn out students who could perform mundane tasks for long periods of time. A hundred years ago a sincere issue among political leaders was how to find enough factory workers. For that reason, government leaders and heads of industry viewed school as a way to produce the human resources that they needed to continue to be productive. They couldn’t afford to allow schools to produce thinkers because thinkers weren’t very good workers. Those schools generally produced students who were good at going to school. A top student would be one who used good manners, never received punishment for the teacher, and always did their homework. Children who were good at going to school would also be good at going to work.

In the Information Age we practically need the antithesis of Industrial Age schooling. We need to begin churning out students who can solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet and students who can lead. The jobs of the future will require students to have creative minds. These adults will be required to collaborate with others and question whatever is placed before them. Employers will be looking for workers who can use their networks to find the answer to whatever conundrum they come upon. Networked people will be more powerful than the greatest scholar because they will have the brain power of hundreds or thousands of minds. Today we can’t afford to produce students who are just good at school. We need to produce students who can survive without a detailed syllabus. Being like everyone else will no longer be a sought after attribute.