I know I’m lightyears behind on my professional reading, but over spring break this year I’ve finally been reading Disrupting Class by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W. Johnson. I am not sure exactly what I was expecting from the book, but it is a title that almost everyone I know has recommended as a “must read.” I am not quite sure that I get it. Don’t get me wrong, Disrupting Class makes excellent and valid points about the changes needed in our educational system. In fact, I want to reflect on a few of these points today.
We are rebuilding the airplane mid-flight.
I have had to remind myself constantly that changes in education aren’t as easy and obvious as I would like them to be. It seems like a no-brainer, but I forget that it isn’t that obvious or that easy to others. When a business needs a structual overhaul, it works behind closed doors for months or years to develop and roll out the revised business model that will work more effectively and efficiently. The newer model is at its near-best from the moment it opens its doors. We can’t do that to schools. We can’t put them on hold or shut them down for extended periods of time while we “fix things.” The changes that we want to make must be done in a way that liquifies solid boundaries and remolds them while we are unable to slow down the pace of movement. Despite these barriers, I truly believe it can be done. In fact, I believe it must be done. It will take an attitude of positivity and focused intervention, as well as the willingness for us all to have the wind in our faces for a while. The result will be worth the effort!
Are computer-based online courses really the answer?
This is an essential question and one that Disrupting Class addresses in a way that I find to be refreshing. If we allow computer generated courses to take on the content and depth of coursework, it cannot replace teachers. In fact, effective teaching practices can then be highlighted in their truest form. I have heard it said many times that you can tell a lot about an educator by their response to the question “What do you teach?” Some people say “Math” or “Biology” or “US History.” Others will respond with “Kids. I teach kids.” What if we could all just teach kids? In my opinion, in order to facilitate online learning to its greatest effectiveness, teachers will have to be more hands on than ever. I see online instruction being self-directed, self-paced and prescriptive in nature. It will allow individual students to follow uncharted paths of progressive learning, but these learning experiences will still need to be facilitated by a learning/teaching professional. Students will need well trained teachers more than ever to help navigate problems, overcome difficulties and move through their learning experiences in the most effective way possible.
Are innovative schools for everyone?
Throughout Disrupting Class I found myself nodding in agreement with most of the observations, but in chapter nine Christensen makes the statement “… innovative schools are not for everyone; instead, they are for specific groups of children who historically have not succeeded in all the traditional schools.” (p. 219). OK, hold on. I think we need to define “success” here. I have always gleaned my personal definition of success from the teachings of John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach. He coined his own definition of success as “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” If this is the case, who has truly been successful in traditional schools? I was a straight A student, scholarship winner, and valedictorian; by traditional standards, I would be considered a successful product of public schools. As I learn and grow, I find myself disagreeing with the idea of myself as having been successful according to my personal definition. Are our traditional schools helping all of our students to “become the best [they] are capable of becoming”? I would make the case that all students deserve an innovative education so that they are able to maximize their own potential as learners and leaders. Schools must be willing to consider the idea that, while our schools have provided adequate education for a high percentage of our nation’s children, this doesn’t mean that they have best served our children and their future!
I am actually encouraged that I haven’t been totally blown away by the ideas set forth in Disrupting Class. Maybe it means that we’re moving in the right direction, that these disruptive forces are actually becoming more mainstreamed. In the book’s conclusion, I especially appreciated the charges for individual groups of people who might come across this book. “There is power in our communities to effect change.” How true. How brave. How enriching. Maybe one day soon, students, teachers and parents will be celebrated for being disruptive! Let us hope.