Whole Child Symposium

Education Innovation: Teaching Tomorrow’s Learners

Post written by Mikaela Dwyer, a journalism student at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. She considers herself a human rights activist and spends her time volunteering on campus and with various local nonprofits. After graduation, Dwyer hopes to join the Peace Corps and then become an investigative journalist for human rights issues.

Brian K. Perkins, director of the Urban Education Leadership Program at Columbia University Teachers College Department of Organization and Leadership, challenged his audience at the 2014 ASCD Annual Conference to think forward about what educators can do today for tomorrow's learners. He explained that innovation is key and reassured the audience that when he says "innovation," he does not mean "improvement." Improvement is just doing better what one is doing already. Innovation is a new solution to a new challenge.

In his session "Innovation in Education: Teaching, Learning, and Leadership for the Next Generation," Perkins explained that the last few decades of education have been somewhat stagnant when it comes to innovation. Immediately, one thinks of technology and innovation, but it's more than that. Today, more than ever, teachers have a better understanding of the psychological aspects of learning as well as how the brain works and how children learn. Perkins emphasized that the top two schools of undergraduate education do not require any courses on education psychology—a major problem. "How can teachers truly be prepared to help students?"

Perkins focused on two main ways to innovate education. First, he discussed teacher preparation programs, stressing that a solid liberal arts education is not enough to become a successful teacher. He used to tell his students that what he was teaching them would prepare them for maybe their first three months as a teacher and that's it. But schools cannot extend the amount of time students are in college because it is difficult to convince a student to stay for an additional year or more, and pay the extra money, only to graduate and make less than, say, an engineer who went for the same amount of time. Then, it is no longer about the children but about the price. We must do something effectively and efficiently to make the best of future educators' four years in school.

"Everything we need to know to improve the condition of education, we already know. But do we have the courage and the will to make it happen?" Perkins asked. Everything right now is focused implementing and assessing for the Common Core State Standards, but it should be so much more than that. Students need to not only know this information but also how to use it. "The solution is to contextualize education courses," said Perkins. He believes that education students should have the opportunity to work in real classrooms with real students within their first year of college, not wait until their fourth year to student teach. They need time to observe the theory in practice so that they can have a stronger understanding of why some students act the way they do or learn the way they do.

Perkins's second focus was on the changing the role of the teacher as facilitator. "Teachers are no longer the gatekeepers of education," Perkins declared. Students have the answers to all of their questions in the palms of their hands: 63 percent of children 8 and younger own their own smartphone. Students no longer pay attention to all of the details in the classroom because they can always look it up later. The solution to this conundrum is to realize that educators do not control the information anymore and need to allow the students to find their own information. As facilitators, then, teachers can show them how to use and understand that information.

Innovation is happening. Recently, the SAT broke from its traditional way of standardized testing and created new goals. Students today are able to process and reason at a higher level than ever before, and educators need to embrace and guide that ability. It's no longer about Christopher Columbus "sailing the ocean blue in 1492;" it's about who he really was, where he was coming from, and why. Perkins concluded his session with a reminder that educators need to teach the way that the students are learning, not how they think students should learn. Older generations might disagree, but it's important to demonstrate why and let them know that technology is the future of learning and innovation is key.

Whole Child Symposium Town Hall

Learn more at www.ascd.org/wcsymposium.

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