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Institutional hierarchy, particularly in the field of education, is a structural model that fails to support teaching and learning in a networked age. Many of the problems that plague our institutions stem from an inability to identify, engage, and benefit from the capacity and ease of digital and physical connectivity. As an educator at the bottom of our system’s hierarchy, I’d like to share the limitations of that structure from my perspective, and offer a framework by which we may more fully realize the possibility and potential at our fingertips.
#1 The Wizard of Oz Problem
There’s a fundamental flaw with the basic way we do business in education, and it’s the cause of many of our other problems. At the very end of education’s content/skill machine is a teacher in a classroom with the door closed. All of the implementation initiatives, all of the roll outs, all of the professional development boils down to that single point of contact, and everyone is pretty much in the dark, aside from the kids, as to what happens next.
What intrigues me most is that tons of it is great, and none of us have ever seen it, heard it, or read about it.
Most importantly, and unfortunately due to our institutional model, everyone up the chain has to wait in anticipation for some evidence as to whether things have worked or not. And since the hierarchy has no other way to gain access to information like engagement level, retainment, and application skills, they hunger for numbers because that’s something they can chew on. Data fuels the machine that is education.
#2 Sharing Is a Resource.
The best examples of connected teaching and learning I’ve seen exist in districts that are digitally aligned from superintendent down to the students. Amazing things happen when local educators at all levels start talking directly to one another on their own terms. Currently, and all too often, networked teachers don’t have administrative support. Or, conversely, networked administrators struggle to get buy-in on a meaningful level amongst the staff. This means that what is being gained by some, is not being shared with all. Sounds pretty lefty, right? The difference is that online, when one teacher shares a rubric, they don’t run out of rubrics. Scarcity isn’t a thing online. Our connectivity is an abundant resource that can only be fully realized when the whole hierarchy joins the network.
#3 I Have a Noon on the Sixteenth.
The upper end of the hierarchy meet a whole bunch. That’s why they have assistants. They’re always having meetings because the upper parts of the pyramid are designed to be a network. They are smart people who know a great deal about how education works, but not if the education is working. They mainly only deal with one another. No kids are involved, well, hardly ever.
#4 Messages in Broken Bottles
On the lower end of the pyramid, we have teachers stranded on islands. They rarely meet. However, there are kids everywhere. If we’re talking about teaching the kids, (that’s the mission, right?), there’s only one real point of contact. The teachers have all of the information, but no voice in the meetings at the top (unless as a labor rep, usually). Therefore, education is a sieve. We have all of this institutional knowledge at the teacher level, all of this real data about teaching and learning, and we let it drive away at 3 o’clock when the teachers hit the highways for home.
#5 Why I Like #ohedchat .
We should be considering the possibility that the real shift in education is at least as much connectivity as content. The upper end of the pyramid, well-meaning people, are trying to get us the tools and acquire (buy) the content they think the bottom end needs. They’re mainly guessing, and though well-intentioned, every teacher knows a roll-out of someone else’s miracle fix when they see it. But if we are connected, educators making full use of the most expansive shift in communication ever seen, we can very easily, and inexpensively, have our voices heard. I regularly talk to teachers and administrators at all levels of the pyramid, and we have great conversations. A network isn’t a hierarchy, it’s a meritocracy. The best voices in education are fewer key strokes away than it takes most of us to log-in to our email. Many of those voices are teachers, and for the first time in the history of education, the point of contact extends well beyond an audience of one. There’s a whole bunch of excellent administrators online that are redefining educational leadership, and they are discovering how easy it is to share the good things happening in our schools everyday.
Let’s leverage our new ability to talk directly to one another and let’s quit the telephone game of best intentions.