There is a focus on how to change education “at scale.” I’ve learned that this term, borrowed from the world of venture capital, is translated to:
“How do we create an educational model that is rapidly replicable and will impact a large number of students?” Internally, we might say, “Why can’t we build schools as fast as they launch a we Starbucks?”
First, you must start in the right place: good classrooms. If you have a great teacher that engages students, you have a working model. We believe that great teaching occurs when teachers are unencumbered with the layers of management and minutia that seems to permeate all schools. So, hire great teachers and facilitate their ability to work independently in the classroom.
Second, throw out the bath water. We’ve learned that it is quite hard to re-engineer an existing school from the inside (there are numerous examples of leaders providing vision and funds to experiment – none “worked”). Toss out the legacy facets of schools and literally start with a basic premise: we’re going to build an environment that permits students to take risks with their learning. That means that young people will feel comfortable failing because they know it is part of the learning process and failure won’t mean the student is no longer favored. To borrow a phrase: fail fast and often.
Third, accept that it might not work. It may seem obvious to stop a process that isn’t working, but it is harder than one might anticipate. We have all these instruments (summative, formative, predictive data) that supposedly work at scale. Instead, I beg leaders to follow their great teachers. Children are, at their very best, anything but standardized. Great teachers know how to shift a curriculum, a lesson or even a class to move children as far along their path as possible. And, great teachers know when to change course – as unpopular as it might be.
Like a great cup of coffee, there isn’t a lot of mystery in education. Professionals that love what they do + a milieu that is nurturing that passion will produce a successful setting for learning. Simple ingredients, a professional and some “space” for them to work. Start there.