The Art of Becoming


I can be a creature of habit. When I get ready to work on a new project, develop a new idea, or even write an article I typically start in the morning. I’ll fix myself a cup of coffee and open my laptop where I am greeted by the current list of waiting updates that I usually ignore, choosing to put them off until tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow… The same thing is true for my cell phone, Blu-Ray player, game console, tablet, etc… On a daily basis I am reminded of the need to “update to the latest version,” and I delay. Sometimes I don’t even get asked! I just open Google and find new features have replaced the old ones I was familiar with. Nothing is static. Everything is fluid and it can be challenging.

Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly), in his book “The Inevitable”, suggests that we are entering a time of “becoming” rather than destination. Everyday our apps, operating systems, and devices are slowly changing, slowly improving, slowly becoming. But they never reach a final destination or version. And the process is deceptively subtle. Little changes today create new issues tomorrow, which lead to new changes the next day, and so on. Before we realize it, everything has changed. What does this have to do with education? A lot, actually.

Since its colonial beginnings, public education in America has gone through three major eras or reforms. The first was the common school movement, which saw the shift from small, rural schools that provided personalized education to larger, urban schools designed to educate large numbers of students. This was followed by the progressive era, which saw reformers like John Dewey push back against the industrial model of education but with limited success. We are currently in the standards era, which is characterized by high-stakes testing, accountability, and standardized curricula.

While I am tempted to call this current era version 4.0, I don’t think we are really beyond version 2.2. Why? Because much of the change that has happened since the common school movement (version 2.0) has not been significant enough to consider it a completely new version. In many schools, the industrial model is alive and well and the current standards era has reinforced this model. However, change is on the horizon. Certainly not sweeping, overnight change that will move us from version 2.2 to 4.0 by next year, but steady continuous improvement. As Mr. Kelly would say, an era of becoming.

Some of these changes, say 1:1 technology, are like the requests from our devices to update to the latest version. We can ignore them for a while, but we know at some point we will have to click yes. But most changes will be more like Google updates; small shifts in the way we do things, that over time lead to another question, that leads to another small shift, and another, and another… Constantly changing, never static, never finished. To quote an old Nike ad, “There is no finish line…”

So, here is the question. What changes will you make today to move your classroom closer to version 4.0? Maybe a new PBL project? How about experimenting with a proficiency scale? Or maybe a student generated assessment?

I promise, whatever change you decide to make will create a new question, which will lead to another small change, and a new question… But that is what makes this moment in education so exciting! And the best part of all? It is our students who will reap the benefits.

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