Education is in a constant state of change, yet it can also be stagnant. The system is both a product of its successes and failures. As global education systems evolve, we continue to grow the innovators of tomorrow while also recycling the sins of the past.
Education systems will only be as good as their worst champions, yet change and growth, no matter how slowly, still occurs. The cycle of constant change manifests itself in opposing ways. Early adopters embrace opportunities to try new strategies and reflect on innovative practice, while those who are sceptics of change set up camp in what has always worked for them, what they believe to be tried, tested and true. It is necessary for both of these to coexist. The early adopters keep us moving forward, while the campers slow us down and make us take pause, lest we make a hasty decision and move forward too quickly.
As educational theorists digest and publish the latest brain research, translate it into pedagogical learning theory and filter it down to the school or practice level, schools shift to keep up with the pace and demands of change; or, they throw their hands in the air and spin in a vicious circle, unsure of which way to go. The more we learn, the more choices we have. Choice can either motivate us or it can paralyse us.
In the midst of all this change and stagnation is the learner – the one constant, yet also the greatest variable of all. Without the learner, our purpose as educators would be lost. We do what we do for the learner. Yet, no two learners are exactly alike, and each learner is constantly going through his/her own change – physical, intellectual, social, cultural and emotional.
The Great Paradox of Education is both exciting and exhausting. Whether we acknowledge we are or not, all educators are agents of change. We respond to the changing nature of the learner and inevitably, as the learner changes in a changing world, the very nature of learning changes too. It is the learners we teach who grow up and enter the world and make their contribution through science, technology, creativity, innovation….the list goes on! These learners, knowingly or not, drive our change as the education system responds to what what they give back or take from the world we help to prepare them for. The noble calling of education is alive and well and I am so grateful to be able to exist in this ever shifting paradigm, navigating the waters of child development, innovation, pedagogy, reflection…and change. How about you?
Time has a way of marching on in spite of us. In schools, the clock on the wall is either friend or foe. Time can propel us or it can paralyze us. I’ve had a life long love-hate relationship with time. I’ve tried to master it, manage it, conserve it, speed it up, slow it down…the list goes on. A wise mentor used to laugh at me and tell me that I needed to be more playful with time. Play with time? How can you play with something that is always moving, never still? While I couldn’t see it all those years ago, my mentor was right. You really can play with time. It’s in the very forward motion of time that the beauty of time playfulness lies. At that point in time, he knew something I did not: time is only scarce if we think it is. I used to think of time as my enemy – it grinded me and wore me down as I constantly tried to battle and slay it. There was never enough time, and worse still, there was no way for me to somehow get more of this fleeting trickster.
In my own inquiry into how to play with time, I discovered a great book by Elizabeth Saunders called, The Three Secrets of Time Investment. While this book is not written specifically for educators, and my motivation to read it was more personal than professional, I still found myself reading the book through my educator lens and thinking about how Saunders’ principles could be applied to teaching and learning. Saunders proposes that time should not be managed. Instead, she challenges the reader to look at time from an investment perspective. Ultimately, we can choose how we invest our time. Instead of spending time, we need to invest our time. When we look at time from a perspective of scarcity, we are in fact hoarding it. If we always think there will never be enough time, there never will be enough time. However, when we look at time from the perspective of abundance then, and only then, can we have a magical play date with time. Here are some of my key applications of Saunders’ time investment “secrets” to an educational setting:
1. Accept the fact that time is finite. Every school day has a definitive beginning and end and there are only so many hours in a school day, and so many days in a school year. You can’t do it ALL. Face it and move on. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a learner, so why do we try to cram everything under the sun into a school day? The more time you spend on one discipline, activity, etc., the less time you can spend on
another. A typical school day is approximately 6 hours long. Factor in recess breaks, lunch and transitions and there are about 4.5 hours of quality learning time in a day. How we play with that time is essential. You know you will see your students for a finite portion of their learning day so you have some choices to make about how that time should be invested. To play with time, focus first on the big picture before you start dialling it down to daily specifics. Think about all of the factors that might pull away your time…relational issues that need resolving after recess, assemblies, accidents, unexpected events like fire drills, absences, etc. Stuff happens in schools – there are a lot of variables that can’t be planned for or controlled. Leave room for these and focus on the time you DO have.
2. Clarify priorities. Knowing your curriculum well is the first step to knowing how to prioritize learning time. If you aren’t sure where you are going, how can you decide where to make curricular time investments? Be realistic when you decide on your curricular priorities. Real is not always ideal, and as Saunders puts it, “reality always wins.” Educators tend to have a bent towards the ideal, and in doing so, we lose sight of what is real. Plan with reality in mind – who are your real students (not the ones you imagine)? How much time do you really have (not how much time do you wish you had )? What is reallyworth knowing and doing? Decide what is essential – less is more. When we put the less is more principle into practice we can make wise time investments that bring playful learning yields. We leave room for learners to have the time to play, explore and inquire. We model prioritization for our students – a pretty necessary skill in today’s fast paced, time challenged world.
3. Habit Patterns Rule. Establishing routines and systems creates stability and security. When you feel stable and secure, fear is replaced by playfulness. One thing I’ve learned is that kids thrive on routines – not rigid routines, but consistent and predictable routines. Predictability creates the space to for spontaneity. Spontaneity invites inquiry. Inquiry invites motivation. Motivation invites learning. Learning invites growth… Habit patterns also enable us to make informed choices when setting priorities. (See #2) How often do we “fly by the seat of our pants” in the classroom? When there is a lack of routine, we lose sight of priorities, and we are right back in the trenches fighting the war against time.
Our relationship with time has significant impacts on how we approach every aspect of teaching and learning, from deciding which learning outcomes will have the highest priority, to how much time learners will need to spend on a task or engage in a learning opportunity, to how much room there is for students to engage in inquiry and reflection. If we are hurried, our students will feel hurried. If we are weary, our students will feel weary. If we are playful, then our students will feel playful. How will you invest your time, so that the learners in your classroom will see the value of how they invest theirs?
Since the dawn of time, humans have been plagued by urges: primal urges, creative urges, instinctual urges, relational urges…When we have an urge we are propelled to act by either delving into the urge, or repressing it. Learning urges are a necessary part of inquiry. Urgency in learning tells us that we must take action to know more or do more to find out or come to a new understanding. Urges move us forward in the construction of meaning – they are like itches that have to be scratched. If we don’t tend to our urges we can become disengaged or even resentful. In today’s world, when a learner isn’t given the room to follow his/her urges, they often say, “I’m bored.”
When educators see themselves as learning architects who are designing learning spaces built on a strong curricular foundation for learners to inquire and construct meaning while developing skills, they must be open to exploring how to create urgency in learning by both igniting and propelling the urge to inquire.
How do learning architects create urgency within curriculum?
First, they define the inquiry purpose by clearly knowing what knowledge is essential for the learner to come away with after all is said and done. They do away with all the fluff – there’s no urgency in that. Then, they design provocations, opportunities and open-ended engagements that ignite the fire of urgency by inviting learners to connect, explore, wonder, puzzle, collaborate, problem solve, think and apply. They carefully plan opportunities for skills that fit the concept to be introduced, practised and/or mastered.
The learning architect also knows the importance of sharing/modelling their own learning urgency by literally selling the curriculum to the learner so they buy in with their learning currency. Curriculum is much like stock – learning architects are the designers and marketers of that stock and learners are the investors. The more the learner feels the urge invest in the curriculum stock, the higher the learning yield will be.
Finally, learning architects know that less IS more. Because they see curriculum AS architecture, they understand the importance of careful design in the learning process so that learners have plenty of space to explore and construct meaning. Learning architects do away with the seemingly but usually unconnected laundry list of activities and instead design open learning structures that invite the learner to take on the meaning construction process. The learning architect coaches and guides the learner by carefully providing the structural support that a learner needs to grow and thrive.