Educational Dissonance and the Echo Chamber

I have been so excited over the past six months to have found so many educators who believe many of the same things that I do. It is heartening to know that there are many that agree education needs to change dramatically! The system needs to move away from the early 20th Century model where information was king and student compliance was essential, to a model where technology is ubiquitous, the information is simply the stuff we work with and the methodology is student centered. After listening to Jeff Jarvis at TEDxNYED, I am convinced that many schools are about to go the way of the newspaper! So why do I title this blog “Educational Dissonance and the Echo Chamber” you ask? The dissonance I feel is coming from the direction of national education policy (primarily NCLB and RttT) that stresses student achievement as measured by high stakes, once a year testing, which emphasizes information and keeps it the focus of the schooling of our children. Schooling is much different than educating. Information is important, but the emphasis should be more about using information to evaluate, collaborate, and create! Those skills and events are much harder to assess and compile, yet if we do not attempt to move past what we have been doing for the past half century our fate will be irrelevance! Firing entire staffs in hard to staff poor urban schools is not the answer. Teaching to a one time high stakes test is not the answer! Are there things that need to change? YES! But devaluing and demoralizing the educators is not the way to bring about change! So, where does the echo chamber come in? Part of it comes from me and my statements about the need for change without enough action to satisfy the needs. Partially from the folks who say “what we do now is o.k. It has worked for years, who says it is broke.” Finally it comes in part from the constant chatter about change and the relatively (at least in my perception) little action I have observed in the schools I am aware of. There are pockets of progressive change, but the world is changing so fast and we are not keeping up. What will happen if we simply sit back and wait to see what happens? I don’t want to find out, how about you?

7 thoughts on “Educational Dissonance and the Echo Chamber

  1. This is something I think about quite often. It seems like we keep coming up with lots of ideas – maybe too many ideas. I wish we could focus on one big change and implement it.

    The problem is, how do we pick the one change to implement? The staff doesn't agree. Even those of us who agree that there needs to be a change can't agree what the change should be. We all are coming from different perspectives and have very different ideas. Some of us think we need to go the way of career paths and more real-life experiences. Others believe that we need to make the academic core more rigorous and prepare more students for 4 year colleges. Some want to try to develop online courses. Others feel that would cost some teachers their jobs.

    I am totally frustrated. We need a common vision, and I can't see how we can develop one. We just can't seem to agree as a staff.

    How can we all come together and support the same kind of change?

  2. This is part of the dissonance of which I speak. Change has to come from conversations and we are just starting. It is frustratingly slow, but meaningful change cannot be mandated. At least we are frustrated about which direction to go instead of fighting the need for the journey.

  3. I agree we cannot mandate change. We need to be able to discuss with stakeholders and set direction for the future. This is a slow process and one governments do not want to wait for. Accountability is such a buzz word in the political world and seems to be the basis for all decisions that filter down. Eg. the recent RI firings. I am not sure how that improves things, or are there a ton of super qualified teachers waiting for jobs in an impoverished school?

    Even though knowledge is good, we need to focus on collaboration and teaching the necessary skills for the 21st century. We are essentially preparing students for jobs that do not exist yet. So, on that note, we need to change our practices in school's because the old way isn't the best way anymore.

  4. I don't see why the ideas expressed in Pam's post are mutually exclusive. Why can't we provide a curriculum that is rich with real-world learning experiences directing students along career pathways designed to show them that they are working towards an attainable goal while also using those learning experiences to challenge them academically? As for online courses meaning teachers losing jobs, we already have teachers losing jobs. I see online course offerings as a way of keeping classes at manageable sizes with the teachers we have left.

    I think one of the biggest challenges I have seen in this conversation is the idea that one idea cannot coexist with another, which turns us all into each other's worst enemies.

  5. I guess my problem with Nathan's comment is that I think we already offer academic classes that are challenging. We offer AP and dual credit classes.

    How about the kids in the middle, or the kids who struggle? What do we really offer them to keep them motivated, interested, and seeing school as pertinent to their lives?

    I know most of my students hate school. One of the reasons that they hate it is because they have been told they are below average for years. It would be like me having to dance ballet for years. (Can you even imagine?)

    Somehow, we need to make those kids feel successful at something at school. We need to make them think school will help them, not hurt them. Then, I think, motivation will improve. Learning will improve.

    As a Special Ed teacher, it is my job to advocate for my students. I do get passionate about it. I know I am worrying about a minority of the students, but I don't want their needs forgotten in whatever change takes place.

    So see – even commenting on change points out our differences. We want change – but what should it look like? How will it serve all the students?

    (And Nathan, I would never consider you my worst enemy!)

  6. As a math teacher, I find it very hard to change from the traditional model of teaching. (teacher demonstrates how to do problems on the board while students follow along) The best alternative that I can come up with is to have the students look through the specific information in the text, take notes, and try some things on their own. Then the next day, have them ask specific questions for me to answer. It's a slight change, but a change none the less. I've asked my students for help, and so far, they've not come up with any alternatives either.

    One day we will find other means to teach students problem solving skills, logical thinking, ect… then Algebra, Geometry, and the such will only be elective math courses.

  7. School – where kids go to watch teachers work.

    I teach math too, and I feel your pain. You might try letting the students do some of the teaching. Student #1 has the odds, Student #2 has the evens (or 2 columns of problems, etc.). They must work together. Student #1 has to do the writing, but can only write what Student #2 says. Student #2 must give the steps for solving the problem. Then they switch and Student #1 explains the steps to do the next problem. It takes some modeling, but they tend to like it.

    Another idea… Put 10 problems on separate sheets of paper. Have 10 students volunteer to tape them up around the room on the walls. The students are not allowed to ask you any questions (only ask each other) as they walk around and do the problems on their own. These may seem silly, but I've seen it work in my own room (My name is Clint Cunningham, been teaching Algebra for 9 years in Danville, IL).

    What I enjoy about these two is that the students have to rely on each other. They work harder for their peers sometimes, and their peers can often explain things in a different way. These aren't things you would do every day, but it sure helps me to break out of my "norm" occasionally.

    I have some templates that make things a little easier and other ideas if you'd be interested. Just contact me at:

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