How do you go about planning and implementing your ideas for school?
I’ve been thinking about the teaching projects I have ahead of me this year. A Year 10 elective class that carries on from 2013; a Year 7 class (part of a whole school plan that seeks to integrate Google Apps as an approach to support innovative teaching); and my HSC course in PDHPE.
I’m in a special position – not only am I planning for my teaching practice, but I’ll be expected to help lead a faculty and a whole-school team through any pedagogical change that we take. Over the recent finished summer break, I sought out information, read as widely as I could, asked questions of others, read some amazing blogs – all to give me a few tips on where I could go with these groups.
In the back of my mind I kept hearing a phrase that many teachers use when looking at improvement in programming or most other foundational school artefact – “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel”. I knew that in order for many staff to “get on board” with any new ideas I had, the new had to look something like the current practice, but with enough change that it wouldn’t scare them and switch off.
I like to read about other people or places that have done things similar to what I plan to do – these insights are valuable in saving time and directing your focus more efficiently. I also like to vary my sources and draw from as many relevant influences as I can to build something new – I wrote about this in an earlier post – because if the real world is drawing inspiration from diverse places, then I feel our kids should experience this in school too. Gaming and Games Based Learning, Project or Problem Based Learning, Inquiry, instructional design, informal play, popular culture, event management, mobile devices, kickstarting, crowd sourcing, teaching standards, art and toys – just a few of the things I considered in my planning.
I ended up with a lot of raw material. And this is where the title of the post comes in – was it better to emulate what I saw, read and learned about, or was it better to assimilate chunks of “newness” into existing practice?
Emulation seems to be the easiest, but in the long run the least satisfying or long lasting. Copying someone else’s idea into your setting invariably ends up with tensions and conflicts – it’s like when you buy local coffee on holiday because you liked it, but it doesn’t taste the same when you get home. Who knows why? Maybe the water is different, the person who made it for you on holidays had a special trick, or piece of equipment that they used. Whatever the reason, the experience isn’t the same – usually not as good.
Bring someone else’s pedagogy or tool back to your place after seeing it on a visit there is the same thing. Your place might not have the same conditions, or tools or techniques for it to work the way you saw it work over there. I’ve seen this lead to frustration and the eventual collapse of well intentioned initiatives.
So what’s an alternative? To reference one aspect of Star Trek’s The Borg (not a particularly nice bunch) here’s my take on assimilation of ideas, tools or methods in teaching. The Borg captured new hosts and by adding new prosthesis gave the new members of the Hive mind an added ability.
I’m not suggesting that we all think alike and do the same things – but the idea of getting a new tool, idea or practice and using it to improve (not replace in total) what you do already is key. By taking what you saw and adapting it to your setting, the chances of it fitting and working, not just for you but for others in your team, are much better. This might seem obvious, but many miss taking the time to think about what they are doing for their setting. They assume if good thing works in one place, then it will work in my place too. Many policies in school departments are built this way, and need individual reworking to work in an individual school. You read a great post about GBL that describes step by step on how they did something, so you attempt to do what they did verbatim. What they may not tell you about is the existing culture or practices or staff skill sets or length of time it took to get it to work and then be shareable. But you can take elements that fit your place and tinker. Takes time? Yes. Need to garner trust and support? Sure thing. But that’s half the fun. Bottom line – you’ll end up with something that works for you, not a square peg in a round hole.
That’s where assimilation beats emulation hands down, in my book.
What do you think? What are you doing now? Have you got any tips for assimilators?