Saturday, May 5, 2012

Do You Understand the World For Which You are Preparing Students?

I worry sometimes that my colleagues and administrators do not really understand the world for which they are preparing children.  I know that many wonder at the urgency and pressure to switch to a collaborative, problem-solving, inquiry model of education.  I know many who feel that their methods are effective, they see learners learning to read and write. Their students produce beautiful work that meet or exceed expectations.  Their students are polite and obedient.  They just don't see a problem.

Yet a problem this is, because what they are producing are instruction followers rather than problem solvers and the world of work is no longer looking for that kind of thinker.

Some concrete examples of how collaborative inquiry is the new model of work might assist teachers in understanding why and how they need to shift their practice. I've put together some tools to help develop understanding.

The first is an article outlining how even competitors within fields have begun collaborating in recognition that this leads to greater success for everyone. Some traditional competitors have even begun sharing work spaces to encourage employees to cross-pollinate ideas.  .

Collaborative Work Spaces are springing up around the world.

The next is a white paper from IBM released in 2008 that explains the new culture of collaboration.

This article from the Globe and Mail describes the Montessori approach to learning and how it is being applied in the workplace. (caveat lector: not all Montessori programs are equal)  What I found interesting is this description outlining the new employer/employee relationship.

“Rather than interfering, micromanaging and putting boundaries on colleagues,” he says, “I prefer to hire the best people with the best attitudes towards personal growth and allow them to mould themselves into the roles and responsibilities they enjoy the most.” Mr. Gokturk does hire people for specific positions, but in lieu of a formal training process, all new employees, from sales to tech support, are set free “to play with our systems and discover things on their own through intuitive use. And we encourage criticism and identification of weaknesses they see and their recommendations on how to address, improve and fix."

The reason for an interdisciplinary approach to inquiry and problem solving can be found in this working paper from the Harvard School of Business. "The further a problem is from the solver's area of expertise, the more likely they are to solve it."

Eli Lilly recognizes this.  They Crowd Source their problems. Problems their chemists are unable to solve are put out to the public.  One of their unsolvable problems was solved by a physicist. Open Source problem solving is one of the most exciting developments of late.  Given that many of the very serious issues our world is facing are wicked problems it is incumbent upon educators to foster learners as problem seekers and problem solvers.

Creating a culture of leaders and risk takers allow employees to have control over their own processes which lead to more responsive organizations. This post describes that culture and makes some very interesting points about freeing up employees to generate and implement ideas.

I hope this helps.

Additions to this post June 7.The rise of the post-industrial economy.

Future work skills 2020:


  1. I'd be ok with the heads-down types if they weren't actively trying to build 19th Century factory workers. It's an epic moment in human history, I'm not even sure where it's going, and I think about it all the time, but at least I'm not adamantly pursuing dead ideas and then nay-saying anyone trying to do anything differently. A little humility from the Luddites would go a long way :) At the very least, we have to get teachers thinking that this revolution isn't just something happening to other people. Great post!

  2. Heidi,

    Thanks for the resources. I am a very vocal proponent of the need for schools to adapt their educational program to prepare students for the world into which we are sending them.

    Many of your readers are likely familiar with Tony Wagner, and the seven critical survival skills we should be teaching in our schools. I've profiled his list and his book in one of my blog posts -

    The biggest challenge (as I see it) is to adapt the system to support (read "fund") the development of curriculum and teacher skills to support the delivery of the 21st century model.


  3. Hi Kevin,
    Thanks for your comments. Funding education systems for inquiry is the stumbling block. I see the difference now that I have iPads in my classroom. It makes inquiry easy. Until all classrooms have similar accessibilit to the tools of inquiry we won't be able to make the shift.


Heidi invites you to comment on your attempts to transform your teaching practice.


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