One of my many important lessons in parenting came from a family visit to a Renaissance fair when my son was four years old. As we walked through this new, exciting environment of medieval costumes and fantasy characters, my husband and I were enjoying watching my son soak up all the sights and sounds—big eyes, lots of questions, wanting to touch everything. A vendor approached us, looking very much like Robin Hood, pulled out a toy bow and arrow, and asked our son if he would like to try shooting with it. My first reaction was that I didn’t want my son to get hurt. My second reaction was to take the bow and arrow and show him how to use it. Robin Hood quickly stopped me, saying, “Children learn by doing. Let him try on his own.” Although I didn’t particularly like someone I didn’t know telling me how to parent, I realized, eventually, that he was right.
Think about the most enduring lessons you’ve learned. They likely came from experiences you had, not from books you read. Education literature strongly supports the importance to learning of satisfaction, interest, creativity, and experience. Yet, in this era of standardized education and accountability, our education system continues to emphasize teaching kids what they need to know to pass tests, says Harvard University’s Tony Wagner, with whom I had the opportunity to talk recently.
Another innovative thinker, Steven Wyckoff of the nonprofit educational service center ESSDACK, defines systems transformation as “taking the learning process outside the school building and learning how to do things rather than learning to take a test.” Similarly, Bela Banathy, a leader in the educational transformation (or Design) movement, says that to truly transform learning, we must leave the old behind and create new “learning systems, learning territories, learning experience trails” (in Groff, p. 7).
What does this mean for school districts? They are at a major crossroads: Organizational structures, learning designs, location (physical and online), technology, leadership, policies, standards, and accountability systems are still needed—but they must be transformed to meet the demands of new ways of learning. Within these structures, how do districts transform the role of the teacher, inspire student self-directed learning, nurture experiential learning, and at the same time, confirm learning has taken place?
Let us know what you think a transformed system of learning looks like. Are there experiences you are fostering in your system or school that provide lifelong knowledge and understanding for students?