When Knowledge and Belief Collide

Recently I had a second opportunity to listen to the Director of Education for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, John Malloy, speak at a conference (#NOELonline).

Below are my notes (with personal annotations) from his presentation.

What are our beliefs as educators?

Traditional Classroom
Photomatt28 via Compfight cc

We have beliefs around what classrooms should look like and what should happen in schools.  Parents have beliefs around what they expect for their children.  There is a shared experience of what school is, and the ‘one size fits all’ approach is essentially the universal past experience for adults.

These beliefs have a stronghold on our vision for schools.

We KNOW that the current approach and structure are not adequate.  But shifting our beliefs to align with what we know is very challenging and tough work.  Changing the ‘rules of the game’ is most threatening to those currently winning at the game (just try to remove competition from classrooms and awards ceremonies for ‘top students’).

If we are going to shift, we need to support teachers.  They need to learn to use technology meaningfully to engage students and enhance instruction.  They need training in 21C skills, or should we call them 22C skills now that we are almost 15 years into the 21C?  There can be no easy outs.  We have to do the work and stop making excuses.

Teachers need to deeply know their students.  They need to understand their passions, strengths, and especially their needs.  Teachers need an inquiry stance that asks what they can learn from their students.  It takes a genuine process of integrating student voice into school planning.  How will we authentically know, engage, serve and learn from students?  What has to change to really do this?


Kerri Lee Smith via Compfight cc

A student-centered approach to teaching and learning is only possible where the culture of the entire system is supportive.  What does this look like?  Focusing at the student level means that classroom decisions are key, learning must be personalized, and teachers need exist in an environment that allows them to do the work.  Classroom work must “bubble-up” and inform work at the system level to support teachers in determining and responding to the greatest needs of their students.

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If we want a culture at all levels that encourages continuous improvement (and we really need to think about that because it means constant change), then the culture needs to  promote and embrace risk-taking.  Educators are a vulnerable group because they have been seen traditionally as those with the knowledge.  Teachers need to understand that they don’t have to (and can’t) know everything.  They need to feel safe learning how we expect students to learn, taking risks, receiving feedback, and growing within that supportive structure.

Does your system work like this?

Teachers care.  They are maxed out on dedication and time they put into their profession.

We need to work differently, to think differently about the type of instruction, the learning conditions, and support teachers in the learning process.

“The only way to provide what our students need, is to collaborate together to learn from one another, to take risks, ask questions, experiment and respond to what our students are saying, creating and doing.  Support each other to be brilliant.”

4 thoughts on “When Knowledge and Belief Collide

  1. Well, I think your theories are interesting, but would really like to know about the practical application of some of your ideas. After teaching in US public schools for 26 years, I too believe there needs to be changes in how we educate children. However, none of the schemes for excellent learning I have become aware of included adequate plans for application in the real classrooms with one underpaid teacher and 34 kids. Without a total paradigm shift and some politically incorrect “elephants” in the room being addressed, no major change will happen. Trust me, I know how to teach, addressing the needs and talents of students, starting where they are and respecting their individualism. But, I barely survived the bullying envoronment that supported the lowest common denominator and caved to the fickle and ignorant demands of a few parents. Changes in education need to include the classroom teachers with respect for what is actually possible. Too many program and text adoptions come from people who have never been in a classroom and the ideas proposed are ludicrous. Sort of like Marie Antoinette saying, “Let them eat cake .”

  2. Hi Lauren;
    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it, especially since I know that as a teacher, your time is at a premium.

    I need to emphasize that these are not my ideas, they are notes from a presentation I was at by John Malloy. Having said that though, I do agree with the statements.

    I appreciate that there are systems where teachers are not supported, and I think you will see that one of the most important ideas in the writing is to create a system that supports teachers in their work. It begins with respect for the amazing work that teachers do every day, and for the importance of their role in the future all of us will be living in.

    It might be worth following the links in these two sentences above, as I think you will see that they also support your point of view.

    Does your system work like this?

    Teachers care. They are maxed out on dedication and time they put into their profession.

    I was in a classroom for a quarter of a century, and many of my classes had over 35 students, so I empathize with your viewpoint. We need systems that support the work of you and your colleagues to do what is best for children.

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