Sunday, January 3, 2010

Teachers as Catalyst

A question I keep returning to, the one that seems to be at the root of all other questions is; how do we live well together? With all the complexities of contemporary life with all the diversity required for a good life, how do we learn to get along, and how do we as teachers prepare our students to be participatory citizens in the 21st century? At times it feels that our society has squeezed the democracy out of school. With so much emphasis on getting ahead, keeping up and doing it faster are we really interested in taking care of each other? I found myself recently on top of a ski hill with this thought about community. Skiers and snowboarders will know that moguls are carved slowly through a season of collective effort; they are formed as a kind of “collective intelligence” if you will in the snow. There is no power of one here only the many that have left a whisper of their presence behind. It is in the voices of the many we may find connection to each other. Dialogue and the sharing of our stories in narrative also over time form a shared understanding. Expert skiers will tell you that they trust the wisdom of previous skiers and follow their path laid down before them while at the same time leaving something of them selves behind. The wisdom that is left behind for me in my research will make up my literature review.
In a previous post I discuss the need for school in the 21st Century. I wrote, “teachers are being asked to make a fundamental shift in their practice away from a teacher centred delivery of content to a more generative and collaborative exploration of content.” Yet as a classroom teacher I find myself in a place between this and what appears to me a data driven, top down non-negotiable environment where I struggle as a teacher to find my autonomy and creativity. A place empty of shared wisdom, a place of musts, where I am told I must collaborate and personalize learning. I am disconnected from decisions and the authority that says I must provide students with choice, yet I wonder where is my opportunity for choice?

What should I call this place? Andy Hargreaves (2003) refers to this as teaching for a knowledge society, a professional paradox.

To add to this, Alberta teachers will soon find a new technology in education policy to work with. In the rational of the draft of this new policy states, “To achieve success and fulfillment as citizens in this ever‐changing complex society, students need to be self‐directed lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and problem solvers. Communication and collaboration skills will be essential. Students will also need to be flexible, creative and innovative as they adapt to the changes around them… Preparing students with these competencies requires that educators design a variety of relevant learning experiences that engage students in productive inquiry through the use of technology.” In addition the first goal of technology in education it mandates the development of digitally confident leaders and educators (p.12). I am left to wonder what professional development plans are being made to support teachers in this confidence?

Hargreaves states that, “Deep professional learning involves more than workshops… it requires time to understand, learn about, and reflection on what the change involves and requires” (p108). This process involves more than just doing what you are told and applying what other have taken the time to think deeply about. It is about taking ownership of your own learning by have choice in the first place in what you want to be curious about. You can’t be a confident learner if you are constantly shoulder checking who is watching. Planting the seeds of change in this soil would give it shallow roots.
Technology has the potential to be a democratic tool to understanding, and teachers have the potential to be a catalyst for change. Is it not time to stop blaming teachers from the hallways of schools for their lack of confidence with technology and being barriers for student digital citizenship and get into the classrooms and start talking to them? What can we learn and perhaps understand by dialoguing with teachers about this place?

I was unable to find a direct source of the Alberta Education Draft Technology in Education Policy but the ATA has published an initial response in the form of a PDF to it at:

Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in the knowledge society. Teachers College Press.


  1. Nice post Nancy! It is always easy for those in charge to write and create wonderful ideas and beautifuly sculpted visions, but so often it ends up being just words. I wonder how much the teachers were involved in the Technology in Education Policy. As the ones who will have to implement it, I certainly hope they were.

  2. I did not see evidence that classroom teachers were involved but they did ask the ATA (Alberta Teachers Association) to comment on it.Better than nothing.