Into the Stratosphere

stratosphere

I just finished reading Michael Fullan’s, Stratosphere.  In this book,  he outlines how: “the ideas embedded in the new technology, the new pedagogy, and the new change knowledge are converging to transform education for all” (p. 3).  Fullan’s book resonates with a driving question I have grappled with in my own work.  How do we create meaningful change throughout our system to truly innovate teaching and learning?

Fullan’s argument is something to consider as we work to make our schools and systems more responsive to the students we serve. In some ways, Fullan’s book treads familiar ground. In his earlier writing, Fullan has correctly warned that technology as the solution can be the “wrong driver” for school reform if it is not paired with “smart pedagogy.”

In Stratsophere, Fullan issues a similar warning.  I agree with him. We should not mistake the tools for actual student learning. Using upgraded technology will not automatically transform pedagogy.

Fullan is critical of those who have ventured before him to articulate 21st Century learning frameworks. After reviewing several of these efforts, he concludes:

No matter how you cut it, we are not making progress on this agenda. By and large the goals are too vague, having glitzy attraction. When we start down the pathway to specificity, the focus is on standards and assessment (which does help with clarity), but the crucial third pillar — pedagogy, or fostering actual learning — is neglected. And aside from its use in assessment schemes, which is a contribution, technology plays little role in learning, surely the main point of all this highfalutin fanfare. (p. 36)

Prensky to whom Fullan pays tribute also critiques the Framework for the 21st Century precisely because identifying the outcomes students will need is the easy part; changing our pedagogy and engaging students in relevant learning is the hard part.

While I agree with Fullan and Prensky that we can’t simply identify outcomes and not transform teaching and learning, I don’t think the frameworks themselves are to blame for not tackling the tough hill. The frameworks are just that — an outline of skills and compentencies students will need for future success.

From this starting point, we, as educators, need to define and articulate what these outcomes look like, how we help students develop these habits of mind and skills, and how we can determine whether students have mastered these competencies.

Fullan’s discussion of the “new pedagogy” aimed at higher-order thinking is helpful in this regard. He draws upon some of the most powerful voices calling for a fundamental rethinking about how we organize schools to make them more meaningful for students’ learning. Citing the work of Tony Wagner, Sir Ken Robinson, Marc Prensky and Jonah Lehrer, he concludes that to “maximize learning”, the integration technology and pedagogy must be:

  1. Irresistibly engaging
  2. Elegantly efficient
  3. Technologically ubiquitous
  4. Steeped in real-life problem-solving

Putting these pieces together will require us to make changes within our systems to ensure that all students develop their fullest capacities  to meet the challenges ahead.  As in previous books, Fullan proposes a systems approach to change that “helps us achieve [the vision], learning while we go.”

It is not the work of isolated individuals working on bits and pieces, adding tools to our existing models that will ensure our students soar into the “stratosphere.” It is the intentional effort of people throughout the system focusing on the essentials, building capacity, and leading the way.

I’d like to hear how other educators are working to make change within their systems to transform teaching and learning. Please share your thoughts and comments.

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