Are we in the 21st century… yet?!

This week’s readings made me feel a bit like I was travelling back in time… DeLorean Time &, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Seriously though, what century are we living in? Is Frederick Taylor’s Factory Model of education still so pervasive and pernicious in Canada and USA as Fullan & Langley (2014) posit? If it is, boy am I glad I’m an international educator.

I can’t empathize with this nonsense and, yeah, I guess that’s why we need constant provocations from disruptors like Will Richardson. It’s like a portal back to “Reaganomics” and “No Child Left Behind”.

“The Achievement Gap” – 🤣

I’m sure you’ve heard the voices — “The pandemic serves as this great provocation to change things!”

However, here we stand. How many schools have changed or just gone back to “the way we do things”.

Ultimately, my point here is, we don’t need to “Close the gap”, we just need to be human in this endeavour of teaching and learning. Learning alongside our learners, putting relationships first, fostering leadership and empowerment in our learners, being more of a mentor rather than a sage on the stage.

This is a conversation about human agency in learning; not coercion, compliance, and the making of robots eating the proverbial slop, like it or not.

Agency… yes AGENCY

It is not something we “give” or “let” people have. It is something only taken away.

The problem is, most adults (and parents) of this generation, including myself, grew up in a doctrine of compliance. Bred for a previous century to be robots of the industrial revolution. This fosters a mindset of, “Well, it worked for me!”, when it comes to many of these children, turned educators, in their approaches to pedagogy (and in the parents, too).

This wheel was broken and, yes….needed some serious fixing. I hope we can speak in the past tense here.

I’ve been an IB PYP educator now for almost a decade, a curriculum that centers itself on inquiry-based learning, agency and authentic learning.

My teacher education was over a decade ago in New Zealand, and I can thankfully say that inquiry is very much at the core of learning there, too.

Call me ignorant, but I’m thankful that my teaching career hasn’t had exposure to being in a curriculum structure built on compliance.

The Enhanced PYP

In 2017 and 2018, the IB’s PYP really started a pivotal shift of putting Bandura’s seminal work on agency at the core, centred upon honouring voice, choice and ownership in learning, empowering learners to be self-efficacious. In other words, empowering learners to be in the driver’s seat of their own learning, summed up nicely by Mindy Slaughter, here:

This was when I really started questioning my own practice more and incorporating the precept that Edu Blogger, Vlogger and author John Spencer and Inquiry guru Trevor Mackenzie use so often:

It’s about “Letting Go”, but more about Empowerment

Look, I could go on for days about this topic which I’m extremely passionate about in education.

Just recently, I led a 30-minute nano PD for some educators on the very topic within my local PYP network, helping a former colleague, friend and PYP coordinator, Tania Mansfield, for a weekend workshop that she was leading. Here is my slide deck, which includes many excerpts from the PYP documents on agency.

I’m obviously biased, but this slide deck is a very good place to start, empowering you to make your pedagogy feel more human, Socratic, shared, co-constructed and more.

I also co-led a workshop on this very subject before the pandemic hit, at the first ever, Apple Distinguished Educator Conference in Hong Kong (November 2019; #ADKHK), with #COETAIL12 grad, and former colleague, Cindy Kaardal. Here’s a link to our slides and resources, for your perusal.

Some more current, inspiring reads on student empowerment and agency:

Questions for you:

  • What things do you co-construct with your learners?
  • What things do you currently do, that you and your learners could do together starting next week?
  • Do your learners set goals in their learning and reflect on them? If not, how could they start next week?
  • Do your learners have a voice in their reporting? If not, how could you change this?
  • Do you learners help inform the choices in how they can demonstrate their understanding? If not, how could you honour their voices starting next week?

3 Replies to “Are we in the 21st century… yet?!”

  1. Hi Justin,

    Awesome post this week. I agree with you completely that the idea of anyone teaching using the factory model seems incredibly old-fashioned and outdated. However, similarly to you, I am also working at a progressive and forward-thinking international school.

    Pretty much all of my friends’ kids in the States (at least from what I can see of their homework when I go home to visit in the summer, and I make it a point to look through all of the kids’ backpacks out of curiosity), are still engaged in what you and I would call rote learning. I’ve seen the following things sent home by public school teachers in so-called “good” schools in wealthy suburbs:
    1. spelling tests and spelling practice sheets
    2. decontextualized reading comprehension worksheets
    3. math worksheets with no word problems, just plain arithmetic
    4. fill in the blank, multiple-choice, and matching activities for various topics in various subjects
    5. history textbooks
    6. very old “classic” books by white male authors with white protagonists and no characters of color at all, etc…

    Plus, when I talked to my two best friends today about the student-led conferences we held last week, they both looked shocked. They were like, “What, you don’t talk at the conference? The student talks and shares about their learning and their goals? We’ve never heard of that idea, how interesting…”

    So, the problem is real. This is why I will never send my son to school in the States. I feel guilty that I have that privilege and that choice. But I also don’t want him doing worksheets. Change is slow and, sadly, although you and I can speak in the past tense here, a lot of students and teachers can’t.

    Out of curiosity, what does public schooling look like in Canada? As far as I can tell, even some of the more “progressive” schools in the States just sent home packets of worksheets for kids to complete during “distance learning”. I need to stop thinking about this before I get too worked up. As you can see, it’s a topic I’m passionate about as well.

    Anyways, I loved the slide deck you shared. I’d love to show it to my colleagues. Is that ok? It’s super clear and I love Trevor McKenzie. I read Inquiry Mindset last year and it was great. So you and I are on the same page there. Have a good week! Looking forward to your next post. I gotta catch. up myself.

    Take care,

  2. Hello Justin, welcome to the 21st century, and yes, I know what you mean and feel with you.

    Changing the factory model is much harder than expected., Will it be possible? Is it intentional? No idea, as long as there are comrades-in-arms, there will be a way, even if it will take a little longer.

    Just because we are standing here does not mean standing still. I can speak for Germany. There is a development very very slow but always in motion.
    It is not so much the schools or students who do not want to change. No, it’s the old teachers and also the new ones. With the old ones, I can understand something. With the boys, I notice again and again that they lack motivation. I don’t want to lump everyone together. That would be wrong. But there are still too few comrades-in-arms.
    And one must not forget the parents. Many live in the old world, which is where they come from. And it’s really hard for them to get involved with the new one.
    It is as already said, very difficult to change the old things, to break up. And let’s be honest, it has worked well for far too long.

    I always look forward for the children and learn from the past for the future, for us.

    Even if it moves very very slowly, something moves. I also have to admit that I’m glad it’s not going so well elsewhere either.

    I think the children are ready for something new. Now we have to convince and reassure the parents. At the same time, we have to pick up the teachers and make them fit for the future. Honestly, when I sometimes hear from home (my mom is also a teacher), it’s not just the lessons, no, also the society. In our politics, there is a lot of talk but little movement. Educators have to do more and more. Get a lot more tasks. Parents are becoming more and more demanding. And society likes to push everything from itself.
    I hope I don’t sound too negative. But it has to change something as a whole. And not only in Germany, in all countries of the world. In addition to education, society, people, the environment and the future must be at the top of the list.

    EMPOWERMENT for everyone, for our WORLD.

    Keep up the good work, be provocative!

  3. Hi Justin!
    YES!!! But yes, sadly, we are still living in an era of compliance. Originally an advocate of standards as a young educator, I believe standards have taken us back into compliance rather than moving us forward – a controversial statement, yes, and not the intent of the standards. Unfortunately, this is what systems do when they try to cohere. I’ve seen writers and readers workshop turned into a compliance model, and even curriculums grounded in inquiry such as IB. Lovely to read your hopeful post about how we don’t need to do this. I also know this to be true…if only we’d stop placing barriers on what is. With regards to agency, we have to trust that students can. Every time students lead, the work is so much better – I have seen this as a classroom teacher and a school leader. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and expertise!


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