I finally got around to finishing up Sir Ken Robinson’s new book “The Element” which, for the most part, was a great read. He lays out a pretty compelling case for the power of passion in learning, and the absolute need for schools to help students identify their own passions through which they can learn just about anything they need. I’ve said in the past that the one thing I want from my own kids’ teachers is for them to help them find what they love to do more than anything else and then support them in their learning endeavors around that topic. Unfortunately, that is not something the current public school system was build for.

Toward the end of the book, Sir Ken lays out the case for personalizing our kids’ educations in the context of transforming (not reforming) schools:

The key to this transformation is not to standardize education but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of the each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions (238). The curriculum should be personalized. Learning happens in the  minds and souls of individuals–not in the databases of multiple-choice tests (248).

He argues that we should do away with the hierarchy of subjects and that we should work as hard as we can to customize, not standardize, each student’s experience of schooling. Oh, to dream.

As I thought about those points, I started thinking about how we treat teachers and their learning as well. So much of professional development is throwing everyone in a room and having them learn the same stuff. Maybe there is some choice in the offerings, but by and large there is very little attempt at creating a customized professional development curriculum for teachers. Yes, we have our PIPs, but those usually address deficiencies or weakensses, not passions.

The other day, I was having a conversation along these lines with a good friend who serves as the Director of Technology at a local school. We were talking about change, about how hard it is, and how long it takes. While he’s done a great deal to move his school forward in terms of open source and social tools and technology in general, from a pedagogy standpoint, he had been racking his brain trying to figure out how to support individual teachers in these shifts. Finally, he came to the conclusion that the only way to do it was to create an individualized learning experience for each teacher, to take them where they are and mentor them, individually, to a different place. He’s in the process of surveying each teacher to determine what technologies they currently use, what their comfort levels are, and what they are most passionate about. Then, using those results, he and one other tech educator at the school are going to start going one by one, talking about change, looking at tools, making connections, and shifting the pedagogy.


It echoes Sir Ken:

Too many reform movements in education are designed to make education teacher-proof. The most successful systems in the world take the opposite view. They invest in teachers. The reason is that people succeed best when they have others who understand their talents, challenges, and abilities. This is why mentoring is such a helpful force in so many people’s lives. Great teachers have always understood that their real role is not to teach subjects but to teach students (249).

Teachers are learners. If they’re not, they shouldn’t be teachers. In a world where we can engage in our passions through the affordances of connective technologies online, we need to be thinking about how to personalize the learning of the adults in the room as well as the kids. This is not the easy route, by any stretch, but it’s the best route if we’re serious about moving the education of our kids to a different place.

(Photo “De Profundis” by Midnight-digital Not leaving! Just very busy)