#purposedpsi Sheffield April 30th
This is a post expanding on my talk at the Purpos/ed Event for a wonderful bunch of educational ‘Instigators’ at Sheffield. The slides are on slideshare and I will expand on those points and include some of the discussions from the day here. Doug Belshaw had asked me to keep it simple and to look at Keri Facer’s new book on Learning Futures. Keri looks at a number of issues relating to how schools might be organised in 2035 but the point that appealed to me most was the one of ‘slow citizenship‘ as it tied in with my Purpos/ed post discussing the Scottish notion of the Democratic Intellect and our complete (English) inability to make the link between the life we want and the responsibilities of citizenship.
Keri’s vision of slow citizenship, or taking time to build the future you want, requires ‘sustained commitment to the lived communities, local neighbourhoods & social relationships through which we live‘ and also answered Pat Kane’s challenge of how we might link Citizenship and Education. Brian Kelly interestingly asked me in the workshops why I emphasised the value of linking education and citizenship. I pointed out that I started teaching in the USA and realised that American students, who are often portrayed as models of ‘students as consumers’, actually saw education as a right guaranteed by their constitution and personally saw it as a way of improving themselves.
In my presentation I then argued that if we are to develop a ‘sustained commitment to the lived communities‘ we needed to examine how we could do that both within the classroom and in local Communities. In Keri’s terms how do we take the first steps to 2035?
The challenge of putting community into the Classroom
Back in 2006 I was lucky enough to spend some time in a workshop with some of the National Teaching Awards winners, as part of an Innovations in Learning project set up by Kevin Donovan. We were trying to get at what made them ‘award-winning’ teachers, what was so distinctive about their practice and how might we share that with others. In the end a number of factors emerged, which might be summarised as them developing their craft as teachers; I have incorporated them into The Craft of Teaching 2011 presentation. They saw three dimensions to what I now describe as their craft using Richard Sennett’s term. Firstly they needed to master anew the subject they had learnt in University in order to make it useable for learning. Secondly they needed to master the classroom, or learning environment they were managing, in order to make it their domain and to be able to differentiate between learners. Thirdly, and for me critically, they had to turn the power over to the learners. However the ability and experience necessary to do this typically takes 3-5 years to acquire, and crucially the award winners tended to have worked this out for themselves and were not supported whilst they did so. This emphasises the importance of Continuing Professional Development for teachers as it is their practice that they learn their craft. So if we want to make real what Keri talks about as ‘slow citizenship’ then teaching practice needs to change, and that change needs to be supported and recognised. But becoming teachers capable of creating a democratic intelligence in our learners, by enabling participation, also requires a substantive change in teaching practice that is recognised and supported institutionally.
Creating a Community Responsive Curriculum;
These debates resonate for me because of research I was involved in for the DfES which concerned how we might develop a ‘Digital Divide Content Strategy.’ This evolved to the Metadata for Community Content project looking at how we might model (and tag) ‘informal e-learning.’ As part of this John Cook at LTRI was involved in research into what made for best practice in UK online centres as part of his Designing for Informal Lifelong Learning work. He identified a ‘life cycles‘ quality to centre behaviours, as their focus evolved whilst people from their local community increasingly got involved in learning and also helping the centres run. In discussion with Professor Diana Laurillard, then at the DfES, we developed the Community Development Model of Learning which included the concept of a ‘Community Responsive Curriculum’ extending this key observation that successful centres responded to various, and differing needs in their community. These might be simple things like just providing a crèche, or changing the opening hours, as well as more complex issues like the subjects offered or the focus of the centre as a whole.
We failed to get the DfES to build on this work, but we did build an online centre to exemplify what we had learnt from this research and some of the very personal stories that people had to tell as they linked their personal and social stories with the activities of their centre; it is called Silwood Cyber Centre and was also designed to provide learning support training – click on Learner Support. As I put it on Saturday ‘above all socially excluded learners respond to a curriculum that makes sense of their lived experience.’ I have also discussed this work in Brasil and Germany where they respond more positively to ideas about learning that are rooted in community values. I think the focus on a community-responsive curriculum would help with Keri’s slow citizenship approach by making explicit the relationship between a community and what is learnt in the educational institutions within that Community. What we in the Learner-generated Contexts Group call ‘a coincidence of motivations leading to agile configurations.’ Another way of describing Keri’s call for future-building schools.
Conclusion; Making is Connecting
So these ideas, teachers that enable learner-centric learning within schools with a community-responsive curriculum, have been extant for a few years, if not acted upon. However educational theorists continue to throw up new ideas and I want to add in two new ones that extend these points and amplify the discussions at Purposedpsi. John Seeley Brown’s ‘New Culture of Learning‘ talks of Learning in the Collective, voluntary communities of learning, where the relationships and responsibilities change and evolve; unmediated andragogy perhaps. More relevantly perhaps David Gauntlett in Making is Connecting picks up on the Zeitgeist and says that in education ‘We no longer want to “sit back and be told” we want to be creative.‘ His work is about re-integrating creativity with learning, something we discuss in the PAH Continuum (See Heutagogy and the Craft of Teaching). Both Seeley Brown and Gauntlett want learning to be driven by passion and offer ways of unleashing that within the education system. Gauntlett offers four future scenarios and is deeply concerned with the practicalities of making sustainability and social justice a part of education.
#purposedpsi; The debates at Sheffield could also be characterised as being driven by passion, and added to these ideas as the inspirational educators discussed how education could be improved, usually with a focus on teaching. My take is that this is happening through any number of initiatives such as TeachMeet, purposed/ed itself and others where a real community concerned with improving practice has emerged. All we need to do now is to work out how to develop a social and political programme (for 2014) out of the newly emerging forms of professionalism that are so valuable and which purpose/ed itself seems to be tapping into and reflecting. We were challenged at #purposedpsi to think about how we might do this and Nicola McNee has addressed this question directly in her blog post Out of the Echo Chamber. I think we need new forms of professionalism, enabling what we might call ‘permissionless responsibility,’ which is what Doug and Andy have demonstrated in this initiative so far.