I’ve been thinking about my recent experience in getting to grips with educational research and escaping the confines of my assumptions. My involvement in an education innovation project has enabled me to do exactly that, and I can certainly recommend it — provided you are prepared to visit spaces outside your comfort zone.
The need to go beyond your comfort zone and assumptions
Having the time to read, reflect, think, visit schools, talk with teachers and students, and engage in professional conversations about a topic of interest is like taking a very deep breath of fresh air. It’s enjoyable but scary at the same time. Scary, because, not only am I working towards an outcome that is not yet known (thanks to the design methodology process being followed), but I also realise that my educational focus has gradually narrowed over the last few years.
Confession: Assumptions are the easy path
I have worked myself into a comfortable corner. I can “get away with” limited professional reading and other such engagement, and where it feels safe to assume what teachers and students want and need when designing teaching and learning experiences. Sure, there is a lot of absorption that occurs through general conversation, conference attendance, skim reading, online forums and such like. And I can maintain a decent conversation about education and where it is currently at. But, taking the time to engage deeply with current educational theory, having focused professional discussions with experts, and spending time with teachers and students in classrooms has highlighted reasonably significant gaps in my knowledge and thinking.
All this seems like rather a big confession to make — I kind of feel like I am exposing myself as a fraud! I feel guilty that I have neglected to maintain my intellectual health. Rather than fill the rest of this blog up with self-flagellation, I would like to take the opportunity to encourage any of you to read to diversify your thinking. Particularly if the work you do doesn’t directly allow for this to happen. I say, actively, in the sense that, in my opinion, thinking is pointless if it stays locked in your head. The great thing about my involvement in the innovation project is that I am applying new thinking to the central area of work that I do.
Another confession: Where do I start paralysis
I do, in fact, have another confession to make: I almost pulled out of the innovation project. Seriously. Why? For the same reason, I continued to put off going to the gym when I was unfit and out-of-shape. Sometimes the mountain just seems too big to climb. I said earlier that escaping the confines of my assumptions was scary when I realised there were a few gaps in my knowledge. But I think it is even scarier when you start looking to fill those gaps. There is so much out there — a literal mountain of information, research, websites, blogs and such-like — I became almost paralysed with fear. Where on earth do I begin? Thankfully, the very project I almost pulled out of was my saving grace.
Redemption: Three simple factors for keeping the educator brain alive
Through my involvement with the innovation project, there have been three essential project elements I feel have kept me engaged during this process:
- A focus of inquiry — Even though this has the potential to change, you need an initial direction to head in. It’s like an overarching goal sitting in the back of your mind that guides your thinking and consequent action.
- A process to follow — Like teaching an inquiry process to your students, following a recipe or training regime, this almost goes without saying. Ewan McIntosh’s ‘How to Come Up With Great Ideas and actually make them happen’ has been the essential guiding light in this instance.
- A good mentor, or mentors — Sailing into uncharted waters, as it were, can be a little scary. Having someone who has been involved similar situations before, someone who is well versed in the process, can be a calming, reassuring influence. I believe we are never too old to admit where we may need assistance!
Not exactly a revelation. But, I guess, that’s the beauty of it— keeping things simple so as not to be totally overwhelmed. And perhaps the biggest lesson of all: a reminder that learning is life-long.
Continue opening doors; continue opening your mind — the next big innovative idea in education might be closer than you think!