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Overpowering the Regularities of School

Shared by Bruce Dixon as part of last week's change.school provocations, HundrED.org is a Finnish organization gathering information from school leaders and change agents about the future of education. "Innovations" provides an exhibition of creative, ambitious, and purposeful educational projects from around the world. Take a look, these luminous examples challenge long-held beliefs about what typically gets prioritized in schools. Are our more traditional priorities influenced by what Seymour Sarason calls the "regularities of school culture"?



In everyday terms, Sarason says, "the ways of doing business in school" can be detrimental to a school's mission and vision, yet they go largely "unexamined and unchallenged" by educators. When we have conversations beginning with "why" we start to dig into some of these issues and expose some misguided priorities. We put an appropriate focus on our beliefs about school and learning.

Example, if creative communication is part of a school's mission statement, why are social media sites blocked on the wireless network? If sleep is essential to the development of youngsters, why does school start at 8:00 AM? Why do teachers give homework? If collaboration is a valued 21st-century skill, why do students sit in desks arranged in rows? Why the continued use of letter grades? Many times the insufficient, but truthful answer is, "because that's always the way it's been done around here."

Bruce said he likes to call these regularities of school "the learning architecture," but how many of our school regularities are actually pernicious to learning? In her popular book, "Shift This," friend and colleague, Joy Kirr discusses what she suggests are small changes she has made to the regularities of her classroom. The resulting practices have created "joyful" challenges, and also significant improvements in the learning of her students. To summarize, Joy's students are engaged and empowered because they serve as teachers sharing what they have learned through inquiry and discovery. No grades, no points, no homework, traditionalists would say these are dramatic shifts in classroom architecture. Alfie Kohn would give these "joyful learners" two thumbs up.

Pressed to answer truthfully, most educators believe schools, to best meet the needs of modern learners, need to make some fundamental changes to their "architecture". From the examples discussed, incremental changes have had a seemingly insignificant effect. What are the priorities of school? Of these priorities which ones can be considered counterproductive to learning? Maybe, just maybe, the key to overpowering some of the more misguided regularities of school is to capacitate those closest to the fray.

Related Reading

Dixon, Bruce. "The Art of Unlearning", Modern Learners. October 15, 2017.

photo credit: Lord is Good Soldier Field - Chicago via photopin (license)

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