What did you say? Learn from our students? Not possible! After all, we are the teachers and teachers teach. We know everything. We are in control. We direct learning. We determine what must be learned, when and how. We can’t possibly learn anything from our students. No way. This isn’t how it should be!
Sound familiar? Scary, isn’t it?! It’s scary to think that anyone teaching in any of our educational institutions may still think this way. But, sadly ….. it’s true. I’ve met them and probably you have too.
How do we break through the resistance, the barriers, the mindset of those who want to continue teaching as they have in the past? How do we inspire our colleagues to adopt new technology, develop new skills, and move with the times? There’s no doubt – it’s threatening to feel that you are not in control. It’s no fun floundering as if you’ve not got a clue what you are doing. But ….. the reality is that times have changed:
- students today don’t remember a time when the Internet wasn’t a major part of everyday life
- the Internet is integrated into all of our everyday experiences
- students today grow up with a ‘direct connection’ to the whole world
- the Internet binds us together ensuring global learning is not only a possibility but is a reality
- use of personal digital devices is as natural to our children as holding a crayon or pen was to us – the older generation
- today’s children are able to seamlessly shift between the online and offline world
My thoughts are powered by an article I recently read on the TNW – Insider blog post: What today’s digital native children can teach the rest of us about technology where they report on research being conducted by a team of experts to see how students think to apply technology to new ideas, new designs and new developments. The ‘digital natives’ who populate our schools today are not only able to more easily grasp the use of new technology, but are able to more easily envisage how these new technologies can be utilized in a range of ways that older people can’t or haven’t. In conclusion the authors suggest:
Perhaps more researchers, designers and developers working on new technology should listen to the ideas of children. Taking a fresh perspective that adults are unable to have, their ideas on interaction, and directions that games, gadgets and the Internet could take are invaluable.
After all, the products being built now [are] meant for the future, and children are that future.”
And if this article wasn’t enough to power my thoughts, I just came across this short TED video by none other than a Year 6 student from Los Angeles – Thomas Suarez. Just listen to this young man talk. He’s inspirational. Encouraged by parents, friends and people from the Apple Store and inspired by Steve Jobs, Thomas has expanded his long held interest in computers and technology to the development of apps for the iPhone. Having started up a club for fellow students to share his knowledge, Thomas has also set up his own company CarrotCorp where you can see some of the apps currently available. Thomas echoes my belief when he says:
“These days students usually know a little bit more than teachers ….. with the technology … so …. this is a resource to teachers and educators should recognize this resource and make good use of it!”
So what’s the problem? What’s so bad about relinquishing the traditional role of ‘teacher knows all’? Lots – say some!
Stop for a minute though and focus instead on the groundswell of belief that says there’s much for us all to gain by letting go, by listening to and learning from our students! Just consider what can be gained by seizing the talents of our students:
- Powerful professional learning for our teachers could readily occur.
- By deploying students as ‘teachers’ an incredibly cost effective professional learning program could be implemented.
- With an abundance of potential ‘teachers’ from among our student population, one on one or small group learning is entirely possible.
- Students demonstrating their knowledge as ‘experts’ could gain the respect of their teachers in a simple, powerful way.
- As students realize they are not just learning, but are teaching, their self-esteem would grow.
- Teachers learning from their students would become role models – to their students – of the learning process.
- The inevitable ‘levelling’ between students and teachers could create a learning community in which all could confidently explore and experiment.
- By engaging as ‘learners’ teachers could demonstrate, by example, the joy of lifelong learning.
- Independent learning could be fostered among both teachers and students as both acquire new skills.
- Engaging our students as our teachers would indeed be a win-win situation: teachers would learn and students would feel empowered.
As new models of education in our schools are considered, teachers must not lose sight of the fact that they bring to their role a wealth of experience and knowledge. It is important to remember that the acquisition of new skills and new levels of comfort and ease in using new technologies will enrich the wealth of experience and knowledge already held. Nothing is to be lost by taking the plunge and learning from our students. On the contrary, heaps is to be gained!