If asked, most people would agree they could do well with more flexibility in their life – this is also true in the education field, and almost all education reform movements include a call for greater flexibility. Of course, this can mean something very different from one person to the next. For me, flexibility is about giving more choice and ownership. I shared this slide (below) in a recent presentation giving an overview of what I think flexibility means in the education context.
Just as we talk about students owning their own learning as an optimal goal, the same is true for adults; the more we own our learning (and teaching), the more optimal and powerful a system we will have. As a leader in a school district, I want all levels of government to grant us the flexibility to allow districts to have their own flavour, or character within a larger framework. In turn, as district leaders, we can do the same for schools in allowing schools their own signature. It is a given, tensions may continue around central or local control, but flexibility and balance should be a consideration here as well.
The process repeats itself in schools with principals giving teachers the ability to be flexible, and teachers doing the same for students in giving students choice in the what and the how of their learning. I do often hear, “we just need permission”, and I am not always sure what that means, but it does point to a culture of thoughtful experimentation where those at each level in the system recognize it as part of their role to increase the flexibility, choice and ownership for others in the system.
Granted, flexibility is only part of the equation. The commitment of everyone in the system (as it becomes less standardized) is to network – pulling people together to pull together key ideas. Teachers need to network students with similar passions, principals need to assist in networking teachers, district leaders to network schools, and governments to districts. Ideally, governments around the world would network together, because just as it is important that two students network and work together to solve a problem in a Grade 5 social studies class, the same holds true for everyone in the system. We want BC to learn from and with Alberta, Ontario, Australia, Finland and all others who are on this journey to move education forward.
Part of my role as district leader is to encourage flexibility, to be a cheerleader for innovation and then to tell the story, weaving together the different journeys in the district as part of a shared narrative.
Creating a more flexible system is all the rage right now — who doesn’t favour it? It does need to be more than just letting people do whatever they want to do. It needs to be systemic, across all roles, giving increased choice for others to work within a larger framework, and pulling the different approaches in a network of learning — together.
I find it easier to write and talk about a system with less standardization and control than what we currently have, but it will be part of our challenge going forward to allow passions to be pursued, and permission to be given. Hopefully, we are now at the front end of the era of educational flexibility.