What vision do we have in common? That was the question when we were sitting at the table and talked about the need for change. What is the added value of online learning for the development of the education of this school for pupils with learning disabilities? Sacha, head of this school in the south of Holland, asked me to guide this development or change process.
A development process
Sacha has also invited Marjolein, who leads the ICT department. They shared their dreams about what online learning could look like in the near future. Going a few years ahead in our imagination we saw a school in which pupils don’t consume and reproduce what they get from the teachers and in which the teacher is in front of the classroom. Pupils gather their own information from what is already available, esp. on the internet, to learn and to develop themselves regarding the questions they come across. And teachers stand in between the students to help them like coaches and mentors to really lead the young people in a sense making way, to help them to reflect on their educational path. The internet and the growing technical possibilities help them to relate easy to other students, to other schools, to people from organizations. Imagine the lesson is about biology and the students discover there is a biological farmer in the neighborhood. The connection to him is a preparation to the next biology lesson about the ecological system. And so the dreams went on. We think and act beyond the walls of the school building!
After this ‘future session’ the next step was to ask: Who could join this journey to the future? Who do we like to see as companions? It is the social dimension of a process. We could easily mention six names of teachers who we like to invite for this because they are motivated and good people to work with. We planned a second meeting for the end of next month and Sacha personally approached those six people and they accepted the invitations to step in. And so this pilot started to become a real innovation process, Marjolein being the process owner.
Four weeks later we had our next group meeting. We decided to divide between the role of process owner (Marjolein) and the one who entrust the process (Sacha). Sacha will not attend the regular group meetings but will be informed about the steps of the process development.
Marjolein started to tell her vision of the future of this school. She drew a picture of the traditional classroom situation and the future reality. In the future situation there is an open network of teachers, students and other people around like parents, other school teachers, entrepreneurs, etc. It became immediately visible that this image supports the very individuality and the difference of all the participants in this educational process. Everyone is in his or her own situation, path, intelligence and capacity and can connect to the world around. Suppose the lesson English: a teacher facilitates an open Skype session with a student for a High School in the United States about a topic of common interest: How do you deal with ecological issues? This seems to be a very intensive and appealing way to learn the communication skills in a globalized world. And the borders between Biology and English become more open to each other.
While speaking about this new realm of possibilities we became aware of ifs and buts. Financial, practical, technical issues came up and it was easy to get into lots of details that has to be solved. But that was a step too early and we went to more fundamental questions: ‘Are our pupils ready for this?’ Or even closer: ‘What about the teachers in this school, are they willing to accept this change?’ We all agreed that differences between pupils has to be respected as well as differences between teachers. Everyone has his or her own tempo and skills and interests. Respecting this we moved back to the vision: We should cooperate in an environment in which we help each other to become self leading in the educational development. We support each other in diversity because in our society people develop themselves in diversity.
A clear standpoint
Marjolein conducted her role as process owner very open and democratic. It was her conviction that during our dialogue no idea or question was wrong, everything could be mentioned. Together we should decide what to do. And while talking in this atmosphere three options to attach the innovation process as a first step into the future came at the table. After the summer, we will start with a pilot and we will discover if it will be attractive enough for others to join. The first option was to connect it to a topic, for example biology or a foreign language. The second option was to connect it to one class. And the last option was to connect it to certain new skills that should be developed. A lot of pros and cons arose during the conversation. The enthusiasm and the flow in this session began to slow down because the more time this discussion took, the less progress we experienced. At the end I asked Marjolein to choose one of the options after she received all the feedback from the participants. She hesitated about it, because she wanted to have a common decision.
The group agreed to make an appointment for the next meeting in which Marjolein should present her decision. One of the participants was relieved and enthusiastic about this, because she had the feeling the group now really made a step forward instead of just talking. This again was a surprise for Marjolein.