I recently attended the National Association of Independent School annual conference in Boston. The theme was “design the revolution,” an apt choice given the current focus in education on instructional design, design thinking, and the digital revolution.
I hadn’t been to an NAIS conference in over 15 years, and a lot has changed. Every workshop was supported by state of the art technology, and there were professional artists put to the task of doodling, or making visual representations, while speakers talked. But the thing that stood out the most to me was that most of the workshops were led by several people sharing the stage, often from a number of different schools.
Not so long ago, workshop leaders mostly stood alone before an audience. Likewise, not long ago, teachers ran their classes as they individually saw fit. But today, the teacher who doesn’t collaborate with colleagues, who doesn’t communicate with other teachers in an effort to not only expand pedagogy but also to verify practice, is looked upon with an increasingly skeptical eye.
There’s no doubt that it’s important for adults who work with children to model the 21st century skills that have been identified as being crucial for future success, collaboration being one of them. But it’s not always easy. Many of our role models were essentially lone wolves, professors who holed up for hours in libraries, adding to their own knowledge and then, in a quasi-magical lecture delivered twice a week, sharing that knowledge in what often felt more like a meteor shower than class.
It’s exciting to see teachers working together to deliver the best possible curricula using the best possible pedagogy. Technology has allowed for a tremendous uptick in collaboration and communication among teachers seeking to develop their knowledge and practice as teachers.
But whatever happens in the next few years in and to our schools, I hope we will always allow — in fact urge — teachers to spin some unexpected magic of their own, to step out alone onto a stage or in a classroom. After all, a spark can be ignited in many different ways.