When a kid ‘gets an A’ on a test, it’s usually because they have complied with expectations. They wrote the answer we wanted them to write. We give them a compliance prize – an ‘A’ – and everyone is happy.
Compliance is easy to measure and easy to produce.
However, what an ‘A’ on a test doesn’t usually indicate is:
- how much a student has actually learned;
- how much they have contributed to the learning of others;
- how able they are to innovate with their new learning; to apply their learning to novel, unexpected situations in adaptive ways.
We still spend a lot of time and energy in schools measuring and rewarding compliance. It seems the ‘real world’ though is increasingly valuing agility of learning, positive impact on others, and disruptive, innovative thinking. These are much harder to measure on a test.
The education ‘system’ is engrained and rigid. When, as an educator, you choose an unconventional strategy or challenge the status quo or disrupt the system in some way, there is only one guarantee – you will be judged.
When Paul Richards, Superintendent of the American School of Dubai, decided to (successfully!) abandon email as a form of internal communication, he was judged. It’s brilliant, and it worked, but there were (mis)judgements made. When Salman Khan launched and popularised Khan Academy, he created a new paradigm of mass education – and he was criticised and judged.
In every school, there are leaders and teachers who are willing to ask brave, challenging questions, to think differently, to push boundaries. It is these educators who are gradually edging us towards an exciting new horizon. And in each case, there is someone eager to criticise them.
Whether you’re a Year 8 kid or an experienced teacher, it takes courage to stand up, to stand out. But there’s always an easy alternative. Sit down, fit in and say nothing.