A Dangerous Assumption

April 24, 2020

 

I’ve noticed an assumption rearing its head as schools across the country have moved to a distance-learning model. I hear it occasionally when helping with virtual PD sessions and social media chats.

 

Like most half-truths, this one can be dangerous if left unexamined:

 

"Now that many of the barriers to innovation have been removed,

education should be more innovative than ever before."

 

It’s true, some of the things that inhibited meaningful change in the past look different now. Many of us have been jettisoned into asynchronous, digital learning landscapes…a growth-inducing experience to be sure. It’s also true high-stakes testing has been paused for many of us. In some respects, we may even have additional flexibility with curriculum pacing and scheduling.

 

However, to think the circumstances surrounding this emergency-remote learning scenario support innovation to the same extent traditional practices were supported is simply not true. How school looked a couple months ago was a product of the energy we invested into (or didn't invest enough into) for decades. Our budgets, leadership structures, level of teacher autonomy, support, professional learning, culture, pedagogy, and relationships were a product of years of choices. Some helpful and others not so much.

 

The absence of high-stakes testing alone doesn’t translate to an environment conducive to innovation…that’s a false dichotomy if I’ve ever heard one. The fact our connectedness during distance learning is more dependent on technology doesn’t translate to innovation either. 

 

Innovation and meaningful change stir in the hearts and minds of people who imagine something different and better. And this, my friends, can be accomplished alongside meaningful assessment practices and without technology in many cases. It’s all about our individual and collective priorities. 

 

I write about the importance of priorities in my latest book, Reclaiming Our Calling. One of my favorite quotes from the book connects to the question, “What would school look like if we held innovation in the same regard as high-stakes testing?”

 

The mere absence of one thing (e.g. testing) or abundance of another (e.g. video-conferencing) doesn’t make something innovative or better. It is the people plus the cause that make the mission meaningful. And their ability to connect is the exponential x-factor in the equation. Testing and technology are not.

 

We can do so much good together, but it’s important we frame opportunities (and the challenges associated with them) accurately. Let me know if I can support you in your efforts and thanks for all you do for yourself, school community, and students.

 

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Dr. Brad Gustafson is an elementary principal, author, and speaker. He believes schools can be spaces where creativity and innovation thrive, but only when we prioritize relationships and a relevant, connected pedagogy. 

 

Connect on email at:

AdjustingCourse@gmail.com

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